SAN ANTONIO, Texas — Sitting miles above the ground with nothing but excitement and joy filling his senses, Timmy Jernigan’s journey to the U.S. Army All-American game took a terrifying turn.

A newbie to the world of air transportation, the Lake City Columbia defensive tackle was just getting comfortable in the sky when his flight out to Texas was halted 20 minutes after takeoff.

Jernigan’s pilot came over the intercom with a message stating the plane was going to have to return to Jacksonville. With no panic in the pilot’s voice, Jernigan shook it off. He attempted to get back to a comfortable position and wait out the delay.

Then, panic set in.

The pilot’s voice returned, this time instructing the flight attendants to prepare the exits. Sitting a few rows from an exit, it was at that moment the 6-foot-2, 275-pound lineman went from calm to scared.

“Rough wasn’t even the word. I was scared,” Jernigan said. “There aren’t too many things out there that scare me, but that thing right there. I always had a fear getting on airplanes and the first couple times I got on one I was like, ‘That ain’t too bad, I kinda like flying.’

“I think I might just hop in the car with my dad after that.”

Fortunately, Jernigan’s flight safely landed back at Jacksonville International Airport. Jernigan and the rest of the passengers were later informed that there was an issue with the left engine.

Jernigan, who was originally supposed to land in San Antonio at 11:40 Sunday morning, was forced to take a later flight. During his wait, Jernigan toyed with the idea of calling his father for a ride back home, nervous to step on another plane.

However, Jernigan gained his composure, filled his brain with positive thoughts and hoped on a flight that brought him to Texas at 8 p.m. Sunday.

“I prayed about it and I was like, ‘I want to go to the game and I want to play in this game, but I don’t know if I want to play in it that bad,’ ” he said. “But I prayed about it and I felt comfortable with it, and I knew God had my back so I went ahead and got on.”

Now, safely on the ground for a few days, Jernigan said he’s having a great time. Jernigan said he’s gotten to not only create new friendships, but he’s been able to meet and learn from many of the men and women representing the U.S. Army patrolling the players’ hotel.

“I got a lot more respect for the Army after I see what they go though and what they sacrifice for us,” Jernigan said. “They don’t even know everybody in America and they still go out there fighting, and sacrificing themselves for us.”

The things in and around the Army game have been fun for Jernigan, but what hasn’t been too thrilling is the latest news in college football. The four-star defensive tackle said feels like he’s starting his recruitment from the beginning because of all the coaching changes at the schools he’s interested in.

Right now, Jernigan said he has three finalists — Florida State, LSU and Alabama. A life-long Gator fan, Jernigan said Florida is still a school he’s considering. However, each one of those schools troubles him in the coaching department.

Jernigan has been worried by rumors of LSU coach Les Miles taking the job at Michigan. Alabama’s defensive line coach Bo Davis just left for Texas. And the only coach remaining from the original staff who recruited Jernigan at FSU is defensive line coach Odell Haggins.

Then there’s the resignation of Florida coach Urban Meyer and defensive line coach Dan McCarney taking the North Texas job.

“The way college football is, it’s been crazy,” Jernigan said. “There’s a lot of changes going on.”

Jernigan said the biggest thing for him in recruiting is trus, and right now FSU is providing the most.

Jernigan said he has yet to officially set up any January visits, but would like to visit Tennessee, a team he’s gained a little interest in over the last few months. He had an official to Alabama set for the 21st, but with Davis gone, he’s not sure if he’ll end up taking it.

With how close Florida and FSU are, Jernigan won’t officially visit those schools.

As for Florida, Jernigan isn’t ready to completely eliminate his childhood favorite. His next objective is to speak with and meet new coach Will Muschamp and new defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, who won’t arrive in Gainesville until after the Seattle Seahawks’ season is over.

Jernigan is leaving a crack for the Gators to slip through, but he’ll have to develop some sort of relationship with the staff if there’s a chance of a commitment there.

“Everybody knows I was very high on Florida,” he said. “I talked to Coach Meyer and we had a close relationship. Coach McCarney, we had a good relationship and also the assistant d-line coach a couple years back, Coach (Sean) Cronin, he left, so I was like, ‘the three dudes I had the closest relationship with (are) gone.’ That’s really been a big factor to me. I just want to go somewhere it’s stable and they’re going to be there for a long time.”

Wherever that school is, Jernigan said he won’t know until right before National Signing Day on Feb. 2. With only a few weeks to decide, Jernigan plans on taking this down to the very last second.

“It’s going to have to be on Signing Day,” he said. “I have no choice.”

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