Josh Ferguson announced for Illinois summer before his senior season at Joliet Catholic. He attended a one-day summer camp and impressed Illini coaches both for his running and pass receiving ability. They offered him a scholarship, and he accepted shortly afterward, before other big-time programs had a chance to gain his favor.
"It came down to Ohio University, Illinois, and I had interest from Northwestern and Purdue. Wisconsin wanted me at slot. They were going to offer me, but I told them not to. Once I visited here, I knew I wanted to go here."
He proceeded to rack up big yardage, showing off his blazing speed and excellent cutting ability. Listed generously at 5'-10", 180, Ferguson proved to Illini coaches he could play college running back. He says he found ways of compensating for a lack of size.
"I guess you can say that since probably eighth grade. Kids started getting better, so I had to improve my speed, vision, cutting ability and all that. That's when my game started to take off."
Ferguson likes to imitate an Oregon running back with similar build.
"I like LaMichael James. I love his game. I could watch it all day."
Offensive coordinator Paul Petrino made a big impression on Ferguson during the recruiting process.
"Coach Petrino recruited me. Ever since I met him, I could tell the type of coach he was. He's a great guy on and off the field. I can tell how much of a competitor he is, which I like because it kind of reminds me of my dad. So it's all good with me."
Ferguson has earned playing time as a true freshman by proving he has the power for inside plays as well as the speed to attack the boundary. His totals after two games are modest, gaining 52 yards in 14 carries plus 14 yards on two pass receptions. But better days are ahead.
He shared his thoughts after his first college game against Arkansas State.
"I was a little nervous first play, but it was all right. You're anxious to get out and play your first college game.
"It was an awesome experience. We got out there pretty early, so that was good. The game speed we've got to adjust to, for sure, but we'll be all right."
The speed of the game didn't bother him as much as he expected.
"It was a little bit faster. You've got to read your keys faster. But I had no adjustment problems."
Ferguson has been called on for inside sorties, but outside zones, pitches and speed plays should be especially valuable to get him into the open field where his abilities will be magnified. He provides a nice complement to powerful fellow freshman Donovonn Young.
Young calls the two "5-6 in the mix." Ferguson says that nickname using their uniform numbers has stuck with them.
"Actually, Donovonn made that up before camp. Everyone on offense calls us that."
The two should form a dynamic duo for Illinois over the next four years.