- Andrea Adelson, ESPN Staff Writer
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Can he catch? Check. Can he run? Check. Can he throw? Check. Can he return kicks? Check.
Not much is missing from the Jerrel Jernigan repertoire. One of the most versatile players in the country, the Troy wide receiver/returner/runner has just about done it all in his career there. In his senior season, Jernigan is poised to have his name etched all over the school and Sun Belt record books.
Just last week against Middle Tennessee, Jernigan set the Sun Belt record for receiving yards with 2,730. He now stands two receptions behind Danny Grant (215) for the all-time Troy record for career receptions and 16 catches behind former North Texas receiver Casey Fitzgerald (229) for the league career mark.
He already holds the school record for career all-purpose yards. So far this season, he ranks No. 4 in the country in all-purpose yards, averaging 178 a game.
Not bad for a high school quarterback.
But Jernigan knew he would not be a quarterback in college. He had his heart set on Auburn, but the Tigers never offered. He took a visit to Georgia Tech, but the Yellow Jackets wanted him to move to defense. “I wasn’t having that,” he said.
When he visited Troy, he loved everything about the school. It didn’t hurt that it was an hour away from his parents. Coaches told him they wanted him to touch the ball eight to 10 times a game, but he says he opened eyes after a 100-yard game his freshman season against Georgia.
“I knew I had it in me,” Jernigan said. “I just had to get used to college game and the speed of the game.”
Jernigan had played some receiver in high school, but he never returned a punt or kickoff. He said it was not that hard to learn. You would have no idea he is relatively new at doing both. He started returning more punts this season for the eyes of NFL scouts, who told him last season they wanted to see him return punts.
His speed certainly helps. Jernigan said he ran the 40 in 4.28 seconds last year at junior pro day at his school. His mother ran track in high school and his father played basketball, but he says he has no idea where he got his speed. He also says he doesn’t do much to work on it -- he has always been naturally fast.
Jernigan also has a special toughness about him. Three days before the Middle Tennessee game, he had surgery on the bursa sac in his elbow. He played against the Blue Raiders with heavy padding on his elbow, catching four passes for 40 yards and a touchdown, and also had three carries for 17 yards. Coach Larry Blakeney praised Jernigan for playing in the game.
“He never whimpered about trying to get ready to play,” Blakeney said. “Some of the padding and maybe the tenderness may have affected his play a little bit, but you have to give this young man credit for showing up.”
Blakeney always worries about giving Jernigan too much to handle throughout the season, saying they run him down during a week of practice.
But Jernigan doesn’t mind, especially if it makes him more attractive for the NFL. He may be undersized at 5-foot-9 and 190 pounds, but there is no questioning his value.
After all, he can do it all.