FOOTBALL: Jemalle Cornelius - back to the future?

Back in 1997 while I was perched high above the practice fields, I filmed them daily for four years and saw many great feats that most folks didn't get to see from the likes of Danny Wuerffel, Fred Taylor, Reidel Anthony, Ike Hilliard, Jevon Kearse, Reggie McGrew, Johnny Rutledge, and many more. You name it, I saw it from an eagle's viewpoint high in the sky. On an overcast day back in 1977 I witnessed the greatest single practice feat that I'd ever seen…

We were going to be playing an opponent that had a lot of blocked kicks against them already that season. Our punt return team was pretty good and the returner that year was Jacquez Green. He already returned two punts for touchdowns in the Kentucky game and was the school's all time leader in that category. The staff saw an opening in the special teams and wanted to take advantage of it. This called for Green to give up his All-Star ability as a return man and instead put him on the front line to hopefully touch the ball before it had a chance to pass the line of scrimmage instead. What happened as a result sounds pretty much unbelievable.

I watched Green line up four times to block a punt and he blocked the ball all four times successfully which is in incredible feat we've never witnessed before. It didn't matter how many bodies they put on Green's 'side to help block him - he always found a seam in the blocking and made the play every single time, four times in a row. The staff was pretty exasperated about figuring a way to block. It was the best four play series I ever saw on the Florida practice field, bar none. Green went on to block three punts that year, but a problem for the staff was he was the best threat the Gators had at receiver. They couldn't risk him laying out for a punt block and coming down with an injury. In the big scheme of things, they didn't think it was worth the risk.

Six years later and I have a new position on the football staff. I am out at practice and helping the offense chart plays. In the middle of offensive and defensive drills, they usually have a special teams session. There is a particular drill where they split the punt protection team from the snapper over to one side. Then a few yards over they have another snapper and the other half of the punt protection team. The staff has the blockers line up on the two halves and both sides get an extra clocker.

This drill was tough enough until they found a new weapon and his name is Jemalle Cornelius. Jemalle has an affinity to block punts like a certain wide receiver from yesteryear and we can only hope that he can emulate Green when the lights come on in The Swamp for history to repeat itself.

Cornelius was kind enough to share a few minutes with us about what he thinks about the upcoming season. His role on the team, he humbly states is, "Just like anybody else at receiver; we have to just go out there and make plays when they throw the ball your way. When you're not getting the ball, make sure you are blocking, going downfield and giving all out effort on every play."

We asked him what he wants the quarterback to think when he drops back, knowing that Jemalle is on his route and going to be open. He said he wants the quarterback to think to himself, "If I get the ball to Jemalle, there is a possibility that he will make a big play on any given play."

What does Cornelius think about his fellow wide receivers and the competition between them? "It's great because you come out here every day knowing that it's wide open. The depth chart is not etched in stone so you have to come out every day and work hard. You have to be prepared mentally and physically because there are five or six guys out there just as good as you. I think it has really helped me a lot to come out here everyday with the same intensity and not take any day for granted."

If he remains the starter as he is now, the season opener will be the first official start for him ever. Will there be any jitters? "Not really any jitters, maybe a little excitement on the opening snaps." He is tight with his family and will bring his own cheering section to the game when his mom, dad, grandma and youth pastor are there to witness his starting debut.

When he lines up for that first punt block, the Gator Nation's eyes should rest feast on number 6 as he comes off of the left end of the line of scrimmage. Jemalle is certainly looking forward to snagging a blocked punt here and there. "Its fun, it's an adrenaline rush out there especially when you get one. We only got two last year, so we want to make sure we get some points and make that a force on defense this year." When he gets into his stance on the punt blocking team, his thoughts are to "Get off the ball. Get off the ball quick and go to that block point. As soon as I see the tip of the ball I'm trying to get off the block as fast as I can."

As we wrapped up our interview with Jemalle, we suddenly remembered one more question to ask him: Did he have a favorite Gator player while growing up? Imagine our feeling of déjà vu' when he replied: "I really liked Jacquez Green. I really liked watching him. He made a lot of plays. He wasn't the biggest guy, but he made plays when he got the ball in his hand. I looked up to him when I was coming up."

Talk about a real coincidence and a blast from the past! Hopefully the past will meet the present in Jemalle's case for the Florida Gators and he'll start reminding us of Jacquez Green's famous heydays at Florida. Keep an eye out for #6 and get ready for that feeling of déjà vu all over again.

Don't forget to join us in Gator Country Chat this Thursday night at 9pm to get the real inside scoop on the football program!

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