Charles Jernigan, more commonly known as “Skeet” said when the time comes, he’s going to have some questions for his maker.
“I think when I get to heaven I’m going to ask the Lord, ‘Why did I follow these kids all over? Why did I care for these kids so much? Why did I sit out in the hot sun? Why did I do all this?’ Sometimes I don’t even know but even when I’m sick, I have to support these kids. Every coach Marshall has had, I’ve tried to be their right-hand man. I try to tell them things that nobody else is going to tell them. I try to tell them when a kid is falling and needs help. I really try to keep up with what our kids are doing. Some of the kids come from bad environments and I try to let the coaches know that this kid is really struggling. I don’t know why but I just do it. I love these kids.”
Skeet has gone great lengths in order to support his Mavericks.
“I’ve got diabetes and two years ago, I was at 7-on-7 and Dan Moore called me and saved my life,” he explained. “I was unconscious. I heard my phone ring and I barely answered it and he said, ‘Skeet, how we doing?’ I said, Dan, I ain’t going to make it.’ It was about 110 degrees in Dallas and Dan said, ‘What? Where you at?’ I said, ‘I don’t even know.’ I was just laying there on a stretcher and thank God, Dan called Dr. (Shane) Kelehan, who was there at 7-on-7 and they got me to the van and cut on the air conditioning and let me lay there.
“Then what do I do next year?” Skeet continued. “I’m right back at it and my wife does not understand it. She says, ‘Are you kidding me?’ Of course (Claude) Mathis got Gatorade and had stuff fixed up for me and we went and sat in the bleachers this time.”
Being the faithful Maverick supporter is something he has done for about four decades.
“When Bill Harper was here, I would go to the regional meet and I would have just enough gas to get up there and back and I would sleep in my car. To me, that shows how much I care about these kids. It’s nothing I want any praise for, or any love for or want anybody to give something for, it’s something I’ve been doing ever since I graduated from Marshall. I’ve just been that way.”
He graduated from Marshall in 1985 and was a member of the football team in his own unique way.
“I was in the ninth grade and you had to make the football team and I had a tumor in my stomach,” he recalls. “That evening coach Todd told me I made the team. When I came back that evening, my stuff wasn’t in my locker and I saw my mom in the office. They told me I wasn’t going to be able to play because I had that tumor and I couldn’t play because I needed surgery. I was in the ninth grade and they weren’t going to do the surgery until I got out of school. I cried all day long because I loved football. Coach Todd, that evening, called me into his office and said, ‘Skeet, I’m very sorry. I don’t know what to do. You love football. You want to be the manager?’ I said, ‘Yes. I’m going to be a good one.’ Surely enough, after the ninth grade, I was the head manager at Marshall High for football and for track. I got my letter jacket the first year for being the manager. Those were some great times.”
After high school, he left Marshall for a brief period but a yearning to be home brought him back.
“After high school I wanted to go into the Navy,” Jernigan explained. “My friend went but I wasn’t able to go into the Navy so I went to Dallas for a while with my dad and I told him, ‘I’ve got to go. I’m going to Marshall.’ He said, ‘For what?’ Sometimes you’re just a Marshall guy. I came back and I’ve been here ever since. I’m a Marshall alumni and I’m a Marshall guy. I bleed Maverick red.”
It’s been years that he has missed a Marshall football game and he’s known not just by Marshall fans but even opposing fans.
“Wherever Marshall is playing, they say, ‘The game isn’t starting until Skeet gets here,’” he said.
Marshall is on its eighth head football coach since Jernigan graduated from Marshall High School.
“All of them are a little bit different,” he said of the coaches. “Dennis Parker was no-nonsense. He’d get after you. Bill Harper won with probably less talent but his kids would go fight. (Rodney) Southern had a good staff. Southern knew how to put things together. He was a good coach and he knew how to put good staffs together. He knew how to take care of his personnel. When Clint (Harper) came back, I tried to help him. They had a good run. I’ve got a lot of respect for coach (Claude) Mathis and the things he’s done. It was a tough situation. He even checks on me now and I check on him too. He’ll tell you, ‘I’m all Marshall, I’m all red.’ Then my guy Jake (Griedl) right now, a young coach, boy, he’s already doing some great things. He’s young and he needs the support of Marshall. We need to get behind our young coach. We need to support him because this is a tough job. It’s not easy. All Skeet is ever going to do is try my best to help and anything that Jake is going through, I’m going to call him. If there’s anything going on with these kids that I can help with, I’m going to try to help them.
When he’s not watching his beloved Marshall Mavericks on the field or court, he’s probably talking about them at True Vine Baptist Church where he has served as lead pastor for the past 13 years.
“When they run on the relay team and they get first, you’re going to hear about it on Sunday morning at my church,” he said. “If they come from behind in a football game, you’re going to hear it. Every kid who goes to college, you’re going to hear it. I’m going to tell it. The two stories I talk more about in this world is my mother, Gloria Jernigan. You’re going to hear that a lot in my church and you’re going to hear whatever the kids in Marshall have done. When Tahj (Washington) signed to go to the University of Memphis, it was talked about in my church because I’m proud of him. The kids now, (DeKendrick) Bender and the kids going to college, you’re going to hear about them because I celebrate them in my church. Everything they do in a season or whatever, I’m going to talk about it.
“I’ve seen everything in Marshall,” Skeet added. “I’ve seen it all but that’s what gives me joy- to see kids go on to college and do well. Those kids give me joy when I see them doing well. They give me vacation. I don’t have money to go on vacation on a big cruise or anything like that. So when they’re in the playoffs, that’s my vacation. When they went to The Star, I was just admiring the star, like, ‘Our kids are going to play here.’ Can you believe a couple years ago we got to play in ‘Jerry World?’ Oh my goodness. To see our alumni out there, that brings me joy. When they went to Houston this last year in that dome, that was like I was on a cruise to the Bahamas or something. So the kids give me vacation that I wouldn’t be able to take. My vacation is following those kids.”
Preaching wasn’t something Jernigan wanted to do but he strongly felt God calling him to it.
“It’s another thing I cannot explain,” he said. “It’s something else I thought was going to take me away from football because God is first and I wasn’t going to put the kids over God. I thought football was over. I thought they were on the backburner and I wasn’t going to be able to come like I wanted to come but I do both of them so well. My church is first and the kids are right there. God has given me the opportunity to do what I still can for the kids.”