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The U.S. Army All-American Bowl selection tour headed to Florida on Friday and made a stop at Lake City (Fla.) Columbia to honor defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan. For Columbia's coach, Craig Howard, it marked the third time in his coaching career he has been a part of the festivities that surround an Army invite announcement.
"I feel blessed as a coach to have at three different times, three great players selected to play in the premier all-star game in America," Howard said. "Tim Jernigan, Tim Tebow, and James Wilson are all the embodiment of what you look for as a high school football coach. Our motto is character, strength, and honor and that is what they are all about."
Howard, as well as Jernigan's father, guided him along the path to accepting the invite to play in San Antonio in early January. Jernigan still remembers when he first found out he was one of the nation's 90 best players who earned a prestigious invite.
"When I found out, words can't even explain it," Jernigan said.
"It is a huge honor," Jernigan added. "It is something I used to always watch when I was younger. I always told myself I was going to try to get there. I guess hard work pays off."
Jernigan is also happy to be putting Lake City on the national radar on NBC. He is looking forward to playing against some of his peers, some from small towns just like him and others who come from football powerhouses known nationwide.
"I would say it is a little bit easier to get into games like this for guys who go to the nationally known programs," Jernigan said. "I am from a small town, so I just had to work harder, had to work a little bit harder than everybody else."
Annually at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl numerous players use that stage as a place to announce their college intentions. For the four-star defensive tackle, an announcement is a possibility but not his definitive plans.
"It is possible but it depends on how deep we go into the playoffs," Jernigan said. "Hopefully we go deep. If we go deep, then it is probably going to be afterwards because I will have to use that time to figure things out. As long as the season is going, I am not really worried about college."
After sorting through dozens of offers, Jernigan has narrowed his list to around six schools with four on top.
"The four that are out there that I am really looking at right now are Michigan, LSU, Alabama, and Florida State," Jernigan said. "There are other teams outside of them that I am looking at and anything can happen. I wouldn't say it will be one of those four that I am going to, I wouldn't necessarily say that, but anything could happen."
He said that his top four schools all share similar traits that make them appealing to him.
"I grew up watching all of them," Jernigan said. "They kind of present some unique situations as far as depth-wise and great academic schools, especially Michigan, great academic school. Those are the things that really stood out to me. … Playing time, all four of them I think I can play as a freshman, I wouldn't necessarily say start, ain't nothing going to be given to you, you have got to work for it, but I think I can go in and play next year."
Being able to see the field as a freshman will be pivotal for a school to land his services.
"It is very important to me," Jernigan said. "It will look real good on your resume, two years as a starter or playing time versus four years. I think I can go in and play. I think I can play with anybody when I do what I am supposed to do, when I work hard and get in the weight room, I run, eat right, do everything I am supposed to do."
So far, Jernigan has hit the road for two officials. His first took him on a plane for the first time in his life when he headed north to Michigan.
"It is nice up there," Jernigan said. "I got time to hang out with Coach Rod (Rich Rodriguez) and I got a chance to hang out with Denard (Robinson) and got to meet some of the guys around the program. Real good people, my type of people, small town guys."
His most recent official was last weekend when he headed to the west coast and checked out Lane Kiffin's USC Trojans.
"It was different, I liked it, but it was different in a good way," Jernigan said. "Basically, me being from a small town, it is huge out there. I saw mountains for the first time, seen the Hollywood sign, it was like living a dream - things I thought I would never see. The team chemistry they have got, they are real tight bond, especially the defensive linemen, they are like brothers. Coach (Ed) Orgeron is a great recruiter, he is one of the best out there. I really enjoyed being with him and meeting him."
This coming weekend will be his third official visit, as he heads west on I-10 towards Louisiana and Baton Rouge to check out Les Miles' LSU Tigers.
"I am going to LSU this weekend," Jernigan said. "I want to see what it is like out there. I have been out there once before, I enjoyed it and liked what I have seen."
At this point, he knows where his fourth official visit will take him, but the fifth and final visit remains an open date and destination.
"I know I go to Alabama in January sometime," Jernigan said. "The last one I haven't figured out where I am going to."
Two schools vying for that fifth and final official visit are Florida and Florida State. At this time, Jernigan plans to visit Florida State unofficially for the Seminoles game against Clemson as well as their regular season finale against the in-state Gators. He said an official visit to see the Seminoles or Gators is not really necessary as he is very familiar with both programs and has seen them numerous times over the past few years.
With regards to the Gators, who many felt had the upper-hand for Jernigan throughout his recruitment, he said they remain in the picture and that their willingness to play the best man, including numerous freshmen, is appealing. He explained that despite their absence from his current top four, the Gators are not out in the cold.
"There ain't no bad blood," Jernigan said. "I am still keeping up with Coach Meyer. We talk maybe once a week. There's no bad blood or nothing, but it is a business decision. More than anything, it is a business. Florida is still in it. They are one of the schools I am looking at outside of the four, Florida and USC, those are the two I am looking at outside of the four."
The U.S. Army All-American Bowl is comprised of 90 of the top football prospects in the nation. The game, in its 11th year, is set to be played in the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas, on Jan. 8 and will be nationally televised on NBC.