LAKE CITY, Fla. -- Even on an "off" night Tim Jernigan (Lake City, Fla./Columbia) leaves a strong impression.
Jernigan, a four-star defensive tackle, made a few mental errors in Friday night's 22-14 victory over Buchholz (Gainesville, Fla.). He was flagged for encroachment a few times and was called for a late hit as well.
But the No. 30 player in the ESPN 150 also single-handedly blew up a running play in a fourth-and-short situation, forced a fumble, played running back and proved to be unblockable most of the night.
"It was probably one of the worst games I've played mentally," Jernigan said. "They had a slow count that was frustrating me and I didn't show good patience."
However, it wasn't nearly as frustrating for Jernigan as it was for the team that tried to contain him.
Facing a fourth and short inside the 10-yard line, Buchholz decided to go for it with a running play and as soon as the ball was snapped Jernigan ran over the center and blew up the play as the handoff was completed.
"In my 37 years of coaching football I haven't seen anyone as dominating as him on defense," said Columbia head coach Craig Howard.
And Howard has seen some dominating players in recent years. He was Tim Tebow's head coach at Nease High School in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., and sees a lot of similarities between the two players.
"Jernigan is the defensive version of Tim Tebow in my opinion," Howard added. "He has the ability to transcend the game the same way Tebow did at quarterback. I don't believe he can be stopped."
And Howard isn't alone in that thinking. Jernigan has received scholarship offers from nearly every BCS school in the nation. The 6-foot-2, 275-pounder has narrowed his list down to Florida, Florida State, LSU, Alabama and Michigan. He says that USC, Miami and Georgia are also options.
Jernigan has stated in the past that his favorite school is Florida but he isn't taking a blind approach to his recruiting.
"Right now everyone is pretty much even," Jernigan added. "Florida and FSU jumped out ahead of everyone early in the process but now it's even.
"I realized I can't make an emotional decision, it has to be the place where I have the best opportunity for success.
He isn't expected to make a decision before national signing day and he plans on seeing as much as he can in the meantime.
"Timmy has taken a very mature approach to the recruiting process," Howard added. "He is looking at his decision from a collegiate football standpoint and from a post-football standpoint.
"I've encouraged him to see as much as he can and check out the games at each of these fine programs so he can take in the atmosphere."
Jernigan will check out Florida-Alabama (Oct. 2), LSU-Florida (Oct. 9) and USC-Notre Dame (Nov. 27), as well as games at Michigan and Florida State.
In recent weeks LSU has been the fastest riser on Jernigan's list. He was able to get a taste of life in Louisiana last week when Columbia defeated South Laforche (La.) in the Gridiron Classic event held at Nicholls State University.
"I love a lot of things about LSU," Jernigan said. "I love the state of Louisiana and I just love the swagger LSU plays with. That's a program I'm very interested in."
Jernigan also admits that the recent bad publicity at Florida has had a small effect on him. The Gator football program has had 30 players arrested since Urban Meyer took over in 2004.
"It definitely makes you wonder [what's going on there]," Jernigan said. "But I feel like if you go into college and have your mind set on the right things nothing bad will happen.
"I come from a good family and I don't think I have any problems off the field."
Jernigan causes tons of problems on the field and will be continuing to cause problems for the opposition as Columbia looks to make a deep playoff run.
"I think Tim has done a great job as an ambassador of this football program," Howard said. "He is aware that all eyes are on him and he's not only bringing positive attention to himself but he has given his teammates an opportunity to perform in front of a ton of college scouts and recruiters that might not be here otherwise."
Lots of youth at Columbia
While Jernigan might be the best prospect to ever come from the Columbia program he will be challenged by several underclassmen.
Howard is high on junior quarterback Nigel Atkinson (6-1, 170), who threw for 347 yards in a 30-19 victory last week against South Laforche.
"Nigel is coming along nicely and he's only had three starts," Howard said. "He has the ability to make plays with his feet as well as his arm."
Howard says that Atkinson reminds him of another quarterback he coached, current Wake Forest signal caller starter Ted Stachitas.
"They are very much alike because both could make things happen with their feet," Howard said. "Teddy was great as making every play a positive play and Nigel is the same way."
Atkinson has already developed a strong bond with a talented group of young receivers. Junior Nathaniel Ayers (5-11, 175) had six catches for 208 yards and two touchdowns against South Laforche and his main target against Bucholtz was sophomore Shaquille Johnson, an impressive prospect who already checks in at 6-4 and 195 pounds.
Howard also points out another sophomore, tight end/slot back Jayce Barber (6-3, 190), who is Atkinson's main competition at quarterback as well.
"We're very lucky to have two fine, young quarterbacks that are very capable," Howard added.
But Columbia's most impressive underclassmen is without a doubt 6-5, 275-pound offensive lineman Laremy Tunsil. His size alone catches the eye but his athleticism and footwork are what really stand out.
Howard, who coached former ESPN 150 prospect James Wilson (Florida) sees something special in Tunsil.
"Laremy has a ton of potential and he does a lot of things right already," Howard said. "I'm starting a lot of sophomores on this team but they are good ones."
Corey Long has been covering high school football and recruiting in the Sunshine State since 1995. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.