By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support local journalism.
Signed, sealed, delivered
Jernigan signs at Carson Newman
Dayton Jernigan signed his letter of intent Wednesday to play at Carson Newman this fall. Coach Matt Turner, pictured, and several friends, family and teammates were on hand for Jernigan's big day. - photo by Jeffery Simmons

Dayton Jernigan has never shied away from being large and in charge. Now he’s going to get the chance to be a true big man on campus.

Jernigan signed with Carson Newman Wednesday, making sure he’ll have four more years to push opponents around on the gridiron. It was an emotional day for the Pioneer lineman, who has always loved the game and wanted to stick with it as long as possible.

“I figured out I loved football when I knew I had the advantage with my size and I’ve rode it all the way to here,” said Jernigan at Mud Bums on his signing day. “I started playing when I was 4 and I really got into it around my eighth-grade year. I felt then that I could go somewhere playing football.”

While there’s little glory for the big guys in the trenches, Jernigan never yearned to do anything but embrace the grind. He relished the opportunity to be a star in the shadows, a process that helped him flourish into a two-time, all-region selection at Warren County and one of the best linemen in the Midstate.

“I love the ability to move people and seeing a running back take off in a hole we made is really satisfying to me. I just love football,” said Jernigan.

Colleges started loving him too, particularly in the last two years. Jernigan started fielding offers and visiting schools as a junior, even when he was doing rehab for a knee injury that limited him to just six quarters of action in 2021. 

Fully back and bulldozing opponents last season, Jernigan shined. He was selected to take part in the TN All-Star game as a senior, though he had to miss due to another knee injury suffered in Week 9 last fall. It still didn’t hold him back from being coveted by Carson Newman, a program with a storied past and bright future as it builds back in East Tennessee.

Jernigan couldn’t have imagined a better fit for his skills than with the Eagles.

“I went up there thinking it was just a visit, but it really opened my eyes about Carson Newman. It’s the way they do things and their team morals. They are not just looking to develop you as an athlete – they want to develop you as a young man going into life,” said Jernigan. “We only have football for so many years, but life is all ahead of us. They prepare you for that and it really drew my interest.”

Matt Turner was one of many of Jernigan's coaches - past and present - to be on hand to see him sign with Carson Newman. Turner has served as a mentor for Jernigan the last four years and he knows just how much work it took for Jernigan to be able to sign on the dotted line Wednesday.

"Dayton is a testament to perserverence and never letting anything stop you from working hard. He's attacked rehab the last two years, making sure he came back stronger," said Turner. "Carson Newman is getting a fine young man and a heckuva talent. It's a big day for him and a big day for Pioneer football."

As Jernigan looks forward to his new start with the Eagles – where he’ll be playing offensive line and looks to be on track to play as a freshman after another knee surgery – he also had a chance to reflect on his time with the Pioneers. Jernigan’s signing is another reminder that the Pioneers are getting back on the map, with their run in 2020 still serving as a memory of a lifetime for the powerful lineman.

“Going to the playoffs in my sophomore year and showing that Warren County could make the playoffs was a career highlight. It showed with didn’t need a pity invite or get there with one or two wins – we earned that spot. That whole year was a highlight for me,” said Jernigan.

It won’t be long before Jernigan is making more highlights on the football field. If it’s anything like his time in Warren County, the best moments will be him tossing around defenders, running backs flying through holes and Jernigan smiling on the sidelines after a score.