Former Florida Gators wide receiver Jemalle Cornelius has one of the biggest smiles you will ever see. And he has plenty to be happy about these days. Having settled down in his hometown of Fort Meade, FL, Cornelius is the head coach of his high school team and is continuing the legacy of his former coach, whose retirement two years ago gave him the opportunity to take the reigns.
Married with three children, Corenlius chose stability over chasing his original dream – playing in the NFL. Speaking with me last week for a feature published on InsideTheGators.com, he opened up about choosing to attend Florida, going through two coaching changes, how his coaches developed him as a player and person, putting the desire to play professionally in his rear view mirror and doing what he can to improve the play and character of his student-athletes.
Check out the feature I wrote last week (subscription required) and supplement it with the remainder of my 45-minute interview with Cornelius found here:
ADAM SILVERSTEIN: Talk about growing up in Fort Meade and how that experience is different from how other people you know grew up.
JEMALLE CORNELIUS: “It was different. I grew up in a real small town, not much to do. All we had as kids was sports. We didn’t have no movies or much stuff to do for entertainment. So we played sandlot football during football season, played baseball during baseball season. Year-round we were just playing sports; that’s pretty much all we had. My dad was a pastor at a church, so he was always involved in the community. He coached me when I was growing up – every sport I played. He was always there. I saw [sports] as my way out, my opportunity.”
AS: Was football always your best sport?
JC: “I started off playing baseball. I was a good baseball player. In Fort Meade, it was crazy, when I was coming up we didn’t even have little league football. We had to go to another city just to play. When I grew up, I played a lot of sandlot football, but it was baseball because we had a baseball team. I first got involved with football in seventh grade. When I got to high school, I just got tired of playing baseball because that’s all I did. It just kind of got boring and football was more exciting, so I leaned towards that.”
AS: You were a standout wide receiver your junior year of high school, but senior year you did it all: starting quarterback, defensive back and punt returner. What was it like being asked to do so much?
JC: “My junior year, we had a real good team. We were stacked. We had a lot of guys coming back; we just didn’t have as many athletes. Coach just kind of pulled me to the side and told me he was going to put me at quarterback. I was the back-up quarterback the year before. At that time, all I wanted to do was win a state championship, so I felt like that was the best thing for me to do. I went over to quarterback. I played defensive back. I returned punts and kicks. I just tried to do whatever I could to, first of all, win a state championship, and then being recruited as a player, the more you can do the better you look to a college coach.”
AS: It must have been tough losing those three title games…
JC: “We went three years in a row – my sophomore year, junior year and senior year – we went to state and lost to North Florida Christian. They had [Florida State linebacker] Ernie Sims at the time, and every year he beat me. Every single year.”
Read the rest of our exclusive interview with Jemalle Cornelius…after the break!
Continue Reading » WR Cornelius: “I just tried to do whatever I could.”