Woodland High football player Brady Jernigan was sitting in third-period forensics class one day, waiting for the bell to ring.
He probably did not expect it at the time, but amid the monotony of his regular school day, during a routine check of his cell phone, he had received a text that would have major implications for his future.
The message was from a coach at Illinois College, and after the recruiting process ran its course, the four-year starter for the Wildcats eventually signed to play for the school during a ceremony at Woodland High last week.
“It’s been fun to watch him turn into such a good person. He’s a great young man,” Woodland head coach Tony Plott said of Jernigan. “He gets the opportunity to further his education, get his school paid for and there’s a need for him there. He’ll go in and be able to contribute early.”
Illinois College, located in Jacksonville, Illinois, is an NCAA Division III program in the Midwest Conference. The Blueboys have gone 37-14 in the last five seasons and played for the conference championship in 2014.
“I visited and they have a nice campus, a good football program,” Jernigan said of his decision. “I met some of the coaches and they’re pretty nice coaches.”
Jernigan also was recruited by Birmingham Southern, Sterling College and Pikeville.
“It was a very tough decision,” Jernigan said of going to college so far from home. “It’s nine hours away, It’s going to be far from home, but I think the experience will be good.
“The coach said they were looking for more size and more depth on the defensive line. He said I matched it perfectly. He said, if I play how I do on film, I can make a big impact on the team.”
The 6-foot, 240-pound Jernigan started all four years on the defensive line and played on the offensive line as well over the course of his career with the Wildcats. As a senior, he recorded 50 tackles, two sacks, four quarterback pressures and one interception in Woodland’s win this year against River Ridge.
“I would say, when I got that interception against River Ridge, that was probably the highlight of my career,” Jernigan said. “It was actually a screen play and one of our defensive linemen was in the way of the running back. It was raining that night and [the quarterback] went to come back with it and it slipped out of his hands and went right to me.”
Aside from the interception, Jernigan was a disruptive presence in the middle of Woodland’s defense over the course of his career.
“He has great technique, a good motor. He’s real strong at the point of attack,” Plott said of Jernigan. “He sheds blockers real well. You know he’s going to be able to hold his gap, hold his ground and not get blown off the ball.”
As much as Jernigan contributed on the field, he contributed as much in the locker room.
“All the years before, he led by example. But, as a senior, he was more vocal and he was a leader for us,” Plott said. “He’s going to be missed. He’s one of those guys, you look around at spring practice, and he’s already missed just because of what he does on the field, and then, of course, everything he brought off the field.”
Jernigan will join a winning program at the next level, and even though Woodland won a total of seven games over the course of his four-year career, he feels his experience with the Wildcats prepared him to compete for his next program.
“Even though it doesn’t show from the win-loss record, I think we made tons of progress just from becoming football players and becoming men,” he said.
Jernigan hopes to continue that development when he arrives on campus in August.
“I want to get my education, first of all,” he said. “And then, I just want to be the best football player I can be.”