TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Church was not a once-a-week affair for Janice Stockton. For a single mother raising three children along the Bible Belt’s southern boundary, time spent in church is counted in days rather than hours.
Stockton was strict, too. There would be no sleeping from her children, even during bible studies and choir practices that often dragged deep into the evenings. Midweek services were not all that rare either.
Naps were banned, but there was never an embargo placed on dreaming.
So, Timmy Jernigan Jr. dreamed, and sitting in a church pew during one late-night service, Jernigan transferred his dream to paper, offering Stockton, his mother, a glimpse into the vision that would guide the former Florida State defensive tackle for the next 15 years, all the way to NFL draft, where one team will call Jernigan's name.
“So many things happen in life, a lot of people let go of their dream,” Stockton said.
The latest hurdle came days before the draft when reports surfaced that Jernigan produced a diluted urine sample at the NFL combine. But Stockton and Jernigan drew upon the picture once again to keep moving toward Jernigan's ultimate NFL goal.
“I saved that drawing he gave me because, he was told he better not go to asleep in church at 7 years old, and looking at him at 21, that dream is coming to fruition," Stockton said. "He never doubted he would do anything but play in the NFL.”
Drawing his dream
Tim Jernigan Sr. passed more on to his son than simply a namesake. Tim Sr. bestowed upon his son a natural gift to play defensive tackle, and those around Jernigan’s hometown of Lake City, Fla., regularly seek to find comparisons between father and son. At 2 years old, just as Jernigan learned to string together a few cumbersome footsteps in a row without tumbling, he was entrusted with his dad’s patented swim move, and Jernigan found so much success with it “when I watch my film I got a bad habit of going to it.”
Worth more than the frame and pass-rushing arsenal was the veneration for the defensive line Jernigan inherited from his father, in particular a reverence for former Giants great Michael Strahan.
“My dad put me on Michael Strahan, one of my dad’s favorite players,” Jernigan said. “Strahan was one guy I looked up to and wanted to be just like.”
Jernigan Sr. even called his family in the north to send down a Strahan jersey for his son.
“I used to call him Strahan,” Jernigan Sr. said. “He played hard, he got to the football, was relentless and Timmy just fit the bill of him. He was a complete player.”
So as Jernigan sat in church that night -- “I still paid attention to the sermon,” he contends -- he dreamed of a future, not just a style of play, which would one day draw parallels to Strahan, a Super Bowl champion and first-ballot Hall of Famer. He asked his mother for a piece of loose leaf paper and two pens -- one red, one blue. He began with a helmet, alternating colors enough times to catch the eye of the Oregon Ducks. As he traced the burly shoulders and matched the red socks with the blue cleats, the picture began resembling a second-grader’s rendering of Strahan.
He added the No. 92 to the front of the jersey, however Jernigan ended his seminal sketch with his name instead of Strahan’s. This was Jernigan’s dream, which will become a reality in the coming days.
“It’s crazy. Words can’t explain it. It’s just a blessing having all that hard work pay off,” Jernigan said. “It brings back all those memories and those late nights, the extra jump ropes and extra weight room liftings and those summertime days at FSU. To see everything pay off is a beautiful feeling.”
A reminder from mom
While the hope of playing in the NFL never waned, Jernigan’s memory of the picture did. He gave it to his mother more than a decade ago and had not seen the picture since that night in church. Stockton held onto it, though, preserving it in a scrapbook documenting Jernigan’s rise from high school all-star to college All-American.
“I saved that picture because it’s important my children follow their dreams,” Stockton said. “… You’re not allowed to say ‘can’t’ in my house. It’s a curse word. You hold on to dreams and watch it come to life.”
Days before Jernigan’s pro day on Mar. 18, Stockton flipped through the pages of her book and came across the drawing. She texted her son that she still has what is now famously known as “the picture” within Jernigan’s circle. Jernigan was bewildered initially. “What picture?” he answered.
When Stockton sent the image, Jernigan flashed back to that night in church and said that moment more than a decade ago was as fresh in his mind as the day he drew it.
“It spooked me when she showed it to me,” Jernigan said. “I remember the exact thoughts drawing that picture, remember like it was yesterday. She knew I had been chasing that dream my whole life.”
It marked the last time Jernigan would bury the picture in his memory. It now serves as the background on his phone, a daily reminder of how far he has come but also of a journey that is still in its infancy.
“The team that drafts him is going to get a great player, and all parents might say that, but this kid has never been really pushed to have to go really hard,” Jernigan Sr. said. “They’ve seen the kid play, but there’s a whole different gear he can go.”