This is the cover story for the December 25 edition of Gameday Magazine. You can view the entire issue here or pick up a copy at the Eagles Pro Shop at Lincoln Financial Field or Philadelphia-area ACME supermarkets.
Tim Jernigan still remembers the best Christmas present he's ever received.
It was Christmas Day 2001 and Jernigan was a 9-year-old living in Jacksonville, Florida during the time when the scooter sensation first started. His family's finances were tight and Jernigan found himself as one of the few kids without the year's biggest fad.
"I remember spending most of the day just walking around asking people if I could ride their scooter. I wanted one so bad," Jernigan recalls.
That morning, a coach from Jernigan's Little League baseball team drove past and saw Jernigan was the only one outside without a scooter.
"He was like, 'Why is everybody riding their scooter and you're just walking?'" Jernigan says.
Jernigan had to explain that his mom couldn't afford to buy one. He had no idea what was coming next.
"He was like, 'All right then, what color do you want?' says Jernigan, the memory putting a smile on his face. "He went to the store and bought me a scooter. I promise you that was the best Christmas ever. I rode that scooter so much."
Jernigan fell in love with the scooter and it quickly became his mom's go-to item to take away whenever he misbehaved. Since then, Jernigan's been making it his business to take away opposing offensive linemen and reserve a special place for quarterbacks on his Gameday Naughty List.
The youngest of four, Jernigan lived with his mother, Janice; brother, Jared; and sister, Tamika. The family couldn't afford to sign him up for peewee football so he watched on as the other kids headed off to youth football practices. When his mom moved to Italy, the 10-year-old Jernigan moved in with his aunt, Jennifer, to Lake City, Florida. His mom didn't explain her move because of Jernigan's age but he still considers it "a blessing in disguise."
"If she doesn't move to Italy, we stay in Jacksonville. Lord knows what happens," Jernigan says. "I look back at the path some of my friends took that I met in Jacksonville and we're doing two totally different things now."
It was in Lake City where Jernigan developed a stronger relationship with his father, Timmy Sr. His father played nose guard in college – the same position as Jernigan today – and thanks to the on-field schooling, the younger Jernigan overcame his football inexperience and quickly became one of the most coveted football players in Florida before he had even reached high school.
"I pretty much got an offer in sixth grade from the University of Florida," Jernigan remembers.
"I went to the University of Florida camp which was a three-day camp and every day I kept getting moved up. The first day I was with the middle schoolers, sixth and seventh grade. The second day I was with the eighth and ninth graders, and the last day I was working with high school seniors as a kid.
"After my sixth-grade year, Ron Zook (the Florida head coach) got fired and I ended up going to the Florida State camp the year after that. The same thing happened at Florida State and they offered a scholarship as well. This whole process kind of started for me at a young age. I've always kind of had that gift and I've been blessed a little bit."
Back in November, Jernigan received an early Christmas present when he signed a four-year contract extension to keep him an Eagle through the 2021 season. An original second-round pick back in 2014, the fourth-year defensive tackle joined Philadelphia this past offseason via trade from the Baltimore Ravens.
He credits two influences for his desire to play football. His father and his brother, Jared, who went to one of the best basketball schools in Jacksonville – Arlington Country Day. From there, Jared ended up playing point and shooting guard at Jacksonville University. Watching his brother play at that level and seeing the support his mom had for him lured Jernigan to pursue a sport of his own. By the time he was finally able to play football, he was more than ready.
"He's the one that gave me that competitive edge. I remember as a kid, my peewee team was horrible. We lost like every game but I played well and made the all-star team. But I remember coming in the house after games and my brother would ask, 'Oh, you guys won today?' and I'd be like, 'Nah,' and he'd just bust out laughing. I'm talking like to the point where I used to want to fight him," Jernigan laughs.
"That's when I figured out at a young age it ain't cool to lose."
Jernigan had a successful collegiate career at Florida State. In three years, he tallied 25 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks as the school went 35-6 overall from 2011-13. One of his biggest accomplishments was winning the BCS National Championship in 2013 when the Seminoles rallied back from a 21-3 deficit to beat Auburn 34-31. That title-winning team had 17 players drafted over the next few years.
"It really taught me the value of being a team player, the value of hard work, and what it took to win championships," Jernigan says of his collegiate success. "And it's crazy because this Eagles team reminds me a lot of how we were at Florida State just as far as the camaraderie and how everybody is just close and gets along and vibes together. It's a blessing and it feels good to be back in that situation."
With the Eagles sitting at the top of the NFC, Jernigan is off to a great start in Philadelphia and the Eagles are off to their best start in more than a decade. In his three years in Baltimore, he made his lone playoff appearance as a rookie. With Philadelphia, already having clinched the NFC East title, the potential for a serious postseason push is on the horizon.
"Sometimes I have to pinch myself and ask, 'Man is this real.' You came to Philly, earned a contract, you get a chance to play on a winning team. We're killing teams man and it seems surreal sometimes," Jernigan says.