Jemalle Cornelius played quarterback at Fort Meade High School, and in 2001 the Florida Class 1A Player of the Year led the Miners all the way to the state championship game. History might be repeating itself nine years later, as Cornelius looks to have the Miners on path for another shot at the state title.
Only this time, he's the head coach at Fort Meade High.
"It's great," said Cornelius of coming home to coach his old team. "At first, I was a little nervous about it, but once I got in and got settled, the fans have been real supportive. I have a good administration down there and it's been a pretty good experience so far."
In his second year at the helm, the 26-year-old Cornelius has Fort Meade at 8-0 following last Friday's overtime win at Berkeley Prep. As a result, Cornelius can add a new honor to his list of accomplishments: the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Coach of the Week.
In what became the de facto Class 1A, District 6 title game, the host Miners rallied from behind by nailing a 22-yard field goal with 21 seconds remaining to tie the score with Berkeley Prep at 20-20. On the first play of overtime, Fort Meade took the lead on Dwayne McCalebb's 10-yard second-effort touchdown, and the Miners' defense secured the victory with a four-down stand on the ensuing Berkeley possession.
"We have a real motivated group and a lot of tradition," said Cornelius on Thursday. "Each senior class doesn't want to be that class that doesn't win a district championship or make a run in the playoffs. They are pretty self-motivated and I just try to keep them all in line."
On Thursday, Cornelius was invited to receive his award at One Buccaneer Place, and he was accompanied by Junior Varsity Head Coach Clinton Cornelius (his father) and Junior Varsity Defensive Coordinator Lorenzo McCutchen. The three received a tour of the facility and watched the Buccaneers practice before Buccaneers Head Coach Raheem Morris greeted the group and offered congratulations to the Miners on their perfect season thus far.
"It was great," said Cornelius following the visit. "I mean, the facility is nice and just being able to watch the players do what they do and getting a chance to meet Coach Morris, it's hard to explain. I'm very appreciative."
Along with a signed certificate, Buccaneers hat and personalized football presented by Coach Morris, Cornelius received a $1,000 donation from the NFL Youth Football Fund to go towards Fort Meade's football program.
"It means an awful lot," said Cornelius about the donation. "We are a small school and to have an opportunity to get some money from an NFL organization, that's great. I'm excited to go back and let everyone know and tell all the guys what a wonderful time I had."
The Buccaneers will honor 10 high school coaches from West Central and Central Florida during this year's prep football season. A Coach of the Year, who receives an additional $1,000 for his football program, will be selected from the 10 weekly winners at the end of the season. The Buccaneers and the NFL's Coach of the Week program aids in the development of youth football, which has a positive influence on young athletes and the communities in which they live.