WR Cornelius: “I just tried to do whatever I could.”

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.”

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FOUR BITS: Tebow, prayer, Dungy, UAA donations

1 » NFL.com senior analyst Pat Kirwan takes a look at which NFL teams have former Florida Gators quarterback Tebow in their sights and where he may be able to find an ideal situation. Simultaneously, senior columnist Vic Carucci calls the Buffalo Bills a great landing spot for the former Heisman Trophy winner.

2 » Pro Football Talk reported that Tebow received from verbal harassment for asking his colleagues to pray before the Wonderlic exam at the 2010 NFL Scouting Combine. Tebow called the story’s author shortly after its posting to dispute the entire account. Now former Brigham Young Cougars QB Max Hall, who was in the session with Tebow, corroborates his denial. “Yeah, I heard about that report,” Hall told The Salt Lake Tribune. “It didn’t happen. I sat right next to Tim the whole time, and he didn’t say anything at all about praying. It’s totally not true. Not at all.”

NFL analyst Tony Dungy speaks on Tebow and the University Athletic Association makes a huge donation to the University of Florida…after the break!
Continue Reading » FOUR BITS: Tebow, prayer, Dungy, UAA donations

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TEBOW BITS: Redskins, Patriots, Del Rio, mockery

» Washington Redskins take a closer look.
Last Saturday, a personnel group from the Redskins including head coach Mike Shanahan, general manager Bruce Allen and director of player personnel Scott Campbell met with former Florida Gators quarterback Tim Tebow for a private workout. Though one should not expect the team to pick Tebow with its No. 4 overall selection, there are rumblings that he is the target should Oklahoma QB Sam Bradford already be selected or the team passes on drafting a quarterback in the first round.

» New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick is impressed.
A team always known to be in the hunt for Tebow is the Patriots, and Belichick recently spoke about what Tebow has done and what he is capable of doing in the future. “Great career, great player,” Belichick said. “I think it’s obvious that within the last six weeks, that he’s worked on his mechanics and they’ve improved, which is a credit to him. He’s very coachable and he works very hard. I’m sure that whatever he feels he needs to do, he’ll work very hard at, whatever that is. Athletically, he tested very well at the combine, which you can see on the field.” New England is another team likely looking at Tebow with an early “value” pick, and it has enough of them that a trade-up is a possibility.

» Jacksonville Jaguars have him on their “wish list.”
“Our [general manager], Gene Smith, and I work hand-in-hand, discussing how we want to build this football team,” Jaguars head coach Jack Del Rio said. “With Tim or anyone else on our board, we’re going to do the work and where they fall, that’s what we’re going to do. He’s certainly on the wish list because he exemplifies some of the characteristics you’re looking for. He’s a terrific leader and his intangibles are off the charts. Those types of things put him in the ‘absolute would have’ category.”

» NBC analyst Tony Dungy thinks he gets drafted early.
“Somebody, I think, is going to take him in the first round,” Dungy said. “I’d be surprised if by the end of the first round somebody hasn’t taken him. And I think it will pay off for them.” On Tebow’s mechanics, Dungy noted that he “heard the same things about Steve Young. I heard the same things about Vince Young.”

» He’s still not sure what he’s doing for the 2010 NFL Draft.
“I’ve got to figure out what will be more fun for me and best for my family,” Tebow told Peter King of Sports Illustrated. “But I have to say I liked what Joe Thomas did on the day of the draft a couple of years ago — he went fishing with his dad.” He is expected to make a final decision sometime this week.

» A fellow draftee mocked him before the Wonderlic.
Pro Football Talk reports that Tebow, minutes before taking the Wonderlic exam at the 2010 NFL Scouting Combine, requested that his testing group bow their heads in prayer. In response, one player told him to “Shut the f—k up,” and others responded to that outburst by laughing. As PFT points out, this “illustrates the type of challenges that could be faced by the team that drafts Tebow.”

» Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll thinks he’s a first rounder.
NFL.com reports that Carroll, who plans to visit with Tebow for a private workout, thinks he is good enough to be a first round pick. However, do not expect the Seahawks to use No. 6 or No. 14 overall on the Heisman Trophy winner. “I can’t believe a quarterback of his stature won’t be (taken in the first round),” Carroll said, adding that someone of his stature is too good to ignore.

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TWO BITS: Tebow set to speak at Winged Foot

1 » Former Florida Gators quarterback Tim Tebow will be the keynote speaker at the 21st Winged Foot Scholar Athlete awards banquet dinner on May 27 at the Naples Grande. The organization awards scholarships to deserving student-athletes from Collier County (like former Miami Dolphins punter Ray “The Mule” Finkle**). Big-name speakers preceding Tebow at this event include head coaches Urban Meyer (2009), Lou Holtz (2008), Tony Dungy (2001) and Steve Spurrier (1994).

**Finkle: soccer style kicker who graduated from Collier High June 1976; Stetson University honors graduate class of 1980; holds two NCAA Division I records – one for most points in a season, one for distance; former nickname “The Mule;” the first and only pro-athlete ever to come out of Collier County…and one hell of a model American.

2 » Two weeks later, the Tebow family’s Focus on the Family Super Bowl XLIV advertisement is still drawing attention. While, for the most part, viewers found the commercial to be harmless and not worthy of the controversy surrounding it, FotF believes it was a success for their organization. However, a Christian research firm named Barna Group disagrees, saying the spot did nothing to convey a particular message and was neither as memorable nor as clear as the group hoped it would be.

Photo Credit: Getty Images

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SIX BITS: Dungy on Tebow, Jaguars, weekend

1 » Former Indianapolis Colts and Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach and current NFL analyst for NBC Tony Dungy continues to stand behind former Florida Gators quarterback Tim Tebow and believes he will succeed at the next level. “I know a lot of people are saying he will play another position and he might, but I think he’s going to be a great leader, a winner, and I think some team is going to take him and tailor their offense to the special qualities he has,” Dungy told George Diaz of the Orlando Sentinel. “I think he’s going to be a fantastic player in the NFL. If I am a coach, I say to myself: ‘I’ve got a special, unique talent and I am going to structure my team a little differently to take advantage of that.’ People are starting to do that. Tennessee did that with Vince Young and was very successful. I think somebody is going to do it. […] Tim won a lot of games in high school, a lot of games at the University of Florida and my belief is that he will win if he gets with the right team in the NFL.”

2 » Jacksonville Jaguars general manager Gene Smith told The Florida Times-Union that his team’s experiment with the 3-4 defense is over. Part of the reason for the change is a belief of Smith in former Gators defensive end Derrick Harvey, who only had two sacks in 2009. “The third year is usually a defining year for what you’re going to become,” Smith said as he indicated that Harvey will begin camp as the starting left end. Former Florida safety Reggie Nelson, who had an outstanding rookie campaign but has since floundered with the Jaguars, may be cut if he does not show significant improvement throughout training camp.

Women’s basketball, lacrosse and men’s & women’s tennis after the jump!
Continue Reading » SIX BITS: Dungy on Tebow, Jaguars, weekend

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Could Tebow be the steal of the 2010 NFL Draft?

For all of the NFL Draft experts discounting former Florida Gators quarterback Tim Tebow‘s chances of succeeding at his chosen position in the professional ranks, a plethora of former and current players, coaches and talent evaluators are suddenly making their voices heard and saying otherwise.

Early Friday, OGGOA told you what Kurt Hester, director of training for D1 Sports Training, had to say about Tebow’s progression since graduating. He has also been praised recently by former and current head coaches Tony Dungy, Jon Gruden and Bill Belichick and former NFL QBs Jim Kelly and Steve Young, among others.

Now Tebow is receiving rave reviews from NFL talent evaluator Ken Herock, who has prepared more than 40 quarterbacks in his career for the NFL Combine. His company, Pro Prep, simulates the interview process conducted by coaches, general managers and scouts; Tebow, not surprisingly, came away with flying colors.

“He’s by far the best [prospect] with whom I’ve ever worked,” Herock told ESPN’s Len Pasquarelli in an unsolicited phone conversation. “He walks into a room and he just energizes it. Whatever ‘it’ is, he’s definitely got ‘it.’ And even for a guy like me, who’s done this for so long, you almost get goosebumps.”

“His release might be a little low at this point, but a lot of people talked about Philip Rivers’ delivery too before he was drafted, and look at what he’s done. I’ve heard all the supposed [negatives]. But I watched [Tebow] on the field and his velocity is good enough, and so is his accuracy. As far as his learning, you don’t have to tell him anything twice. And he’s a student of the game. I recommended that he watch some tapes of Steve Young, and he said, ‘Oh, I’ve already done that.’ He wants to be good. He wants to succeed. And he will succeed.”

“I’ve seen him on TV and heard all the stuff about him, and you think to yourself, ‘It’s too good to be all be true.’ But there is nothing phony about him at all,” Herock raved. “He’s about as genuine as you can get. If there was one word I would use to describe him, it would be ‘winner.’ People will have to convince me he’s not a quarterback and that he won’t succeed.”

Tebow, who continues to be seemingly underrated by experts like Mel Kiper, Jr. and Todd McShay, could very well end up being the steal of the 2010 NFL Draft – even if he turns out to be a first-round pick. Which scouts, general managers, coaches and owners become enamored with him enough to take the perceived risk of selecting him on the first day still remains to be seen.

OGGOA will be offering live coverage of the 2010 NFL Draft.

Photo Credits: David Bergman/Sports Illustrated, Associated Press

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Louisville AD met with Strong, job not offered (yet)

Named by numerous inside sources as the front-runner for the Louisville Cardinals head coaching job last week, Florida Gators defensive coordinator Charlie Strong sat down for a meeting Sunday night in Gainesville, FL, with Tom Jurich, the school’s athletic director. Jurich, who waited to contact his Florida counterpart Jeremy Foley and then Strong until after the 2009 SEC Championship, said last week that he wanted to “get the program rolling” but not “be a disruption to their program.”

As OGGOA reported on Wednesday, Jurich was prepared for a lucrative counter offer from the Gators to keep Strong as their defensive coordinator and left the meeting (which was “several hours” long) feeling one was on the horizon. “We’ve got a little more work to do,” Jurich told ESPN’s Pat Forde after meeting with Strong. “I know Florida wants to keep him. I was very, very impressed by him,” he said. “He’s a quality guy.”

However, Jurich left the meeting without officially offering the job to Strong, though he will continue discussing it with him over the next few days. Jurich also told ESPN that he was given a noteworthy recommendation of Strong by former Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy. “Not a bad recommendation,” Jurich said.

Should Strong leave, it will be the second time in as many seasons that the Gators have lost a coordinator after the SEC Championship game with former offensive coordinator Dan Mullen being hired as the Mississippi State Bulldogs head coach in 2008. Assistant defensive coordinator/safeties coach Chuck Heater and assistant head coach/defensive line coach Dan McCarney would be the leading candidates to replace Strong should he accept the job. One of the two could join Strong as his defensive coordinator wherever he winds up, and rumors have begun that Strong plans to bring Florida wide receivers coach Billy Gonzales along with him as his offensive coordinator should he take a head job.

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