Saint Paul (Minn.) Cretin-Derham Hall five-star junior defensive end Jashon Cornell knows how to grind.
When talking about the nation's top 2015 football prospects, Cornell is ranked as high as No. 1 in the nation.
He grew up seeing his mother and grandmother do it every single day.
“They’re good role models,” the class-of-2015 blue-chip recruit said.
They’re also gritty, tough and accomplished.
Cornell’s mother Sheena gave birth to him when she was 14-years old.
The statistics typically go against teen mothers, but that definitely doesn’t apply in this situation.
According to Dr. Phil:
• Children of teen moms do worse in school than those born to older parents — with half failing a grade. Those same children are less likely to finish high school than those from older mothers and have a lower performance on standardized tests. Many children born to teen moms have behavioral problems, juvenile delinquency and conflict with authority.
Cornell is an honor-roll student and leader in the student body at Cretin Derham Hall. He takes advanced placement courses and is currently part of Link Crew, which assists ninth graders and transfer students with their adjustment to the school.
Cornell dominated at the Maximum Exposure Adidas Showcase. The next week Notre Dame and USC offered.
• Two-thirds of families begun by a young unmarried mother are poor.
Thanks to Sheena’s work ethic and a very involved grandmother, Cornell and his three sisters are flourishing.
• The sons of teen moms are two times more likely to end up in prison.
Cornell is a positive influence in his community, who goes out of his way to help others. One of Sheena’s favorite stories goes back to when Jashon was 14-years old himself, and he took the initiative to help an elderly man on the side of the road change a tire while many others drove by leaving him stranded.
Life’s not easy. If it was, everyone would be rich, famous and successful. Thanks to his mother’s leadership, Cornell is on track to be all three, with the successful part being a guarantee.
“I started working when I was 15-years old,” Sheena said. “I got my first job at McDonalds. I needed to make sure he had everything he needed.”
The same drive and determination Cornell takes to his school and football activities comes from the desire his mother has every day to provide for her family. She got her GED, then went on to get an associate’s degree in criminal justice. She currently works as a business administrator at a bank and has a side business as a bail bondsman.
“I’ve never stopped trying to make life easier for my kids,” Sheena said, adding that her mother’s been a huge help along the way. “I’ve been working every day since I’ve had Jashon and I’ve never stopped.”
“It shows what you can do in life,” Jashon added.
It was an easy decision to send Cornell to Cretin-Derham Hall, a school that prides itself on academics, leadership, community, service and diversity. All things Sheena was already teaching her kids at home. It also didn’t hurt that the Raiders had a tradition-rich football program.
“I knew it would keep him focused on education and there he wouldn’t have to worry about keeping up with everyone, worrying about the latest fashions and the stuff kids are trying to keep up with,” Sheena said. “I wanted my son to be focused on school and not be worried about stuff like that. Education is more important to me than any of the other stuff. I want him to be successful in life with an education. You have to be smart in the books to be smart on the field. That is a key piece to being a football player.”
Notable alumni from Cretin-Derham Hall includes several great football players and athletes including Joe Maurer, Chris Weinke, Steve Walsh, Paul Molitor, Matt Birk, Ryan Harris and Michael Floyd. In two years Cornell’s name will be added to the list.
It’s not easy to earn being in that kind of elite company.
“I know when Jashon first started his freshman year at Cretin, just the drive in him,” Sheena began. “The kid was getting up at 5 a.m. getting dressed and going to the school. He was beating the janitors to get into the school to work out and finish up some homework or meet with teachers before class started because he didn’t want to fail. He wanted to make sure he was staying on top of his grades and making me proud as a parent. He was like I need to get to the school. Can you give me a ride? I want to work out and I want to talk to one of my teachers to get help on homework. This was his whole ninth grade year. This was his 10th grade year too.
“Even if he was sick he did not miss school. It’s amazing to see. He pushes himself. He didn’t want a regular English class. He wanted an A.P. class. He is not one of those kids to sit back and coast. He wants to push himself to be successful.”
Cornell’s mindset was to get better and that he had to work harder than the older kids at his position to get recognized. Varsity head coach Mike Scanlan was quick to notice.
“We knew he was special in ninth grade,” Scanlan stated. “We usually keep ninth graders on the ninth grade team, but when their season ended we brought him up with us. It was obvious to us he could contribute as a ninth grader. That’s pretty rare. Joe Mauer didn’t come up as a freshman. Michael Floyd didn’t come up as a freshman.”
As a sophomore, Cornell broke out, registering 52 tackles including 26 stops for loss, 14 sacks and three forced fumbles. The 6-foot-4, 245-pound pass rusher is up to 22 scholarship offers from the likes of Arkansas, Florida, Florida State, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Northwestern, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Ole Miss, Penn State, Rutgers, Stanford, USC, Vanderbilt and Wisconsin.
With all the accolades, Cornell is still arriving at the school as a junior before 6 a.m.
“My mindset is now I know I have a target on my back, so I have to work harder to compete with the top kids across the country,” Cornell said.
Ranked by the 247Composite as the nation’s No. 17 prospect overall, ESPN recently released its 2015 rankings with Cornell at the top of the list.
“The thing he said to me, being ranked No. 1, the only place to go is down,” Cornell’s trainer Ted Johnson said.
Many of the area’s top athletes work with Johnson, with Cornell putting in six days a week during the offseason. Johnson works with Cornell on his speed, agility and explosiveness. He also gives him a strict diet to live by.
It’s not easy for Cornell to connect with Johnson. It’s an hour bus ride both ways, and sometimes Cornell comes in after doing yard work or something around the neighborhood to earn some money.
“I have a ton of respect for him,” Johnson said. “There will be days he comes in already sweaty and smelly before we even get started. He wants to be the best. Not the best right now. The best ever. That’s where the bar is.
“The workouts we do, Ryan Harris told him no guys at your level are doing this. This will give you an edge going into college.”
Cornell has gained 25 pounds of muscle. With that, he says he’s running .3 seconds faster in the 40-yard dash, getting down to the 4.6 range because of Johnson.
“Those bus rides are long and tiring but I’m improving my footwork and speed,” Cornell said. “I know if you want to play at the next level you have to have good footwork and speed. It’s all about being fast-paced.”
Cornell also knows he has to be dominant in pads. When he wasn’t with Johnson or traveling to various camps and combines this summer, he was putting in work with another former Cretin-Derham Hall standout in Broderick Binns, who went on to be a starting defensive lineman at Iowa.
“He’s been one of my mentors that helps me out and got me to the position I’m in now and taught me a lot of things I used this summer,” Cornell said. “I’ve seen a lot of improvements in my game. My footwork has got way better. I got way better with my hands.”
Scanlan is expecting an even bigger season from his blue-chipper this fall.
“He worked like a fiend in the offseason in the weight room,” Scanlan said. “I don’t want to say magical, but this kid transformed himself. He’s up to 245 pounds and really hasn’t lost a step. I think that’s really impressive. I don’t want to say he’s sprinter fast but for a period of seven yards or so I don’t think you’re going to find anyone quicker than him. He’s cultivated his athletic ability through hard work and with weight room stuff like all the good ones do. He’s a handful. You put him on the edge and people are going to have trouble handling him.
“He’s as good as we’ve had and somebody that’s going to make his mark.”
Levi Bradley from Unsigned Preps has been working with Cornell since he was headed into the ninth grade and is another reason why he’s been able to get so much national exposure and experience visits to several different college campuses.
Bradley has taken Cornell to Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Northwestern, Notre Dame and Wisconsin. He’s gotten him to several combines and showcases to put his talents on display.
“We put a plan together for how we’re going to blow him up,” Bradley said. “I told him from jump the early bird gets the worm and you’re a defensive end and with that you have an opportunity to be the No. 1 player in the country, but you have to get out on the camp level and prove it. Once you go to one-day camps and showcase events that matter, you’ll be battle tested and that perception of Midwest football players and Minnesota players go out the window.”
Cornell dominated at the Maximum Exposure Adidas Showcase in Grand Rapids five months ago. The next week he landed offers from USC and Notre Dame. They started pouring in after that. He even got a chance to visit the Trojans campus where he connected with another Unsigned Preps athlete Nelson Agholor.
Cornell figured he’d eventually earn a few BCS scholarship offers but holding over 20 before playing a down as a junior took him by surprise. He’s taking the recruiting process slow and building relationships with coaching staffs on the next level. This fall he plans to attend several games including Notre Dame-Michigan in Ann Arbor (Sept. 7), Wisconsin-Ohio State in Columbus (Sept. 28), Iowa-Michigan State in Iowa City (Oct. 5), Northwestern-Wisconsin in Madison (Oct. 12) and Notre Dame-USC in South Bend (Oct. 19).
Not saying these programs are his early leaders, Cornell says his best early relationships are with Cal, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Northwestern, Notre Dame and Ohio State.
“Just getting to know their coaches more,” he said. “Every time I call they’re always excited to hear from me. I love that closeness and I’ve gotten really close to their coaches at this point in the process.”
Cornell won’t get serious about making a college decision until much later in the process.
“I told Jashon right now I want him to enjoy football and enjoy the sport he loves,” Sheena said. “Just continue to do his best in the classroom and on the field. He has plenty of time still. Right now I want him to go ahead and continue to enjoy football, and sooner or later we’ll go through schools and take more visits and get to meet more schools’ coaches and walk through campuses and go through academic centers. We want to give everyone an opportunity to show us what they have to offer and find the best fit for Jashon.”
Cornell plans on majoring in business.
“I think what’s important to me is a great business program, campus lifestyle, academics, coaching staff and people around me,” Cornell said of what he’s looking for in a school. “I want to get to know everything and everyone. Who I’m going to be playing with and who’s going to be there with every night.”
For Sheena it’s crazy how fast time flies. It seems like just yesterday she was working at McDonald’s as a teenager doing the best she could to provide for Jashon. It seems like just yesterday she was signing her seven-year old boy up to play football. He couldn’t play in the flag league because he was too big. Now a successful woman and mother of four, her eldest is practically a grown man.
“He’s a very kind-hearted, lovable, determined kid that has this drive about him that is unreal,” Sheena said. “He is so determined to be successful at everything he does. Not only on the field but being at home and in the classroom. He’s just determined to do the best possible to reach his goals and he won’t stop. He’s one of those kids that when he should give it a break he keeps going till he reaches his goals. He’s a really outgoing, humble young man and I’m very proud of who he is.”
“He has to help show them how to become successful in life,” Sheena said. “They look up to him as far as who he is and what he’s doing. Being little sisters they also get on his nerves because he’s the only man in the house. If they don’t see Jashon for a day, as soon as he hits the door from the oldest one to the youngest one they’re saying something smart, bugging him, even if it drives him crazy and makes him feel missed. I think it also puts a lot on him because he has to do his best because they are looking up to him. I think it’s awesome he’s the only boy and with him being the only boy he has made my life so much easier. I never had so much as a problem out of Jashon.
“It’s been amazing to see him grow into the young man he is now.”