Illinois started out with 6 running backs last fall, but two lost the season to injury and one transferred. Two of the remaining backs graduated, leaving Josh Ferguson, Donovonn Young and Ean Days to battle it out this spring.
With Young wearing a green jersey the first week of spring ball to allow more healing for a stress fracture, Ferguson gets first crack at a starting job. He is excited to be back on the field after a lost freshman campaign.
"It feels great. It was a long off season, especially with the injury. I did a lot of work in the training room to rehab it. I look forward to playing again.
"There were some tears in my hamstring. It was probably about four months before I started running normally. I'm fine now."
Some on the previous Illinois staff implied Ferguson was hesitant to get back on the field, but there was no choice.
"Those potshots didn't cause too much of a ruckus. It just took longer to get back."
Ferguson also bruised his shoulder early in winter workouts, but that is no longer a concern either.
"I hurt it in one of the wrestling drills, but it's fine now."
Ferguson gained 52 yards in 14 carries and caught two passes for 14 yards before being shut down for the year. Despite the injury layoff, the 5'-10", 180 pounder saw enough practice and game action to improve his perspective as he enters his second year in the program.
"Oh yeah. I'm a lot more confident. It's a new offense, so there's still some hesitation. We're still trying to learn. But overall I'm just looking forward to being out there again."
Offensive changes appear to suit Ferguson's running style.
"I like it a lot, the different types of runs. The zone reads are good for a shifty back like me. I look forward to it. I love catching the ball as well."
His new Illini coaches Tim Salem, the running back coach, and offensive coordinator Billy Gonzales also have boosted his spirits.
"I love the coaches. Coach Salem is a great teacher. He's very patient with us and teaches us well. Coach Gonzales is my guy. He knows a lot about football. Learning under him has been a great experience so far."
"Yeah. Eat right, do what I have to do in the training room, treat my body right and ice it a lot. But overall I should be fine."
While he couldn't play in the game, Ferguson still benefitted. He feels the bowl win has boosted morale through the off season and will be a stepping stone for the fall.
"We're working hard in the weight room, so I expect another one. I love the new training coaches. They're all great."
What does he look forward to most for the spring?
"Just playing. Getting out there and scrimmaging and competing."