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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, August 17, 2006

Pain, perseverance for UH slotback Ferguson

UH football training gallery

By Stephen Tsai
Advertiser Staff Writer

Left outside linebacker Tyson Kafentzis, left, defends right slotback Patrick Olchovy during a drill at yesterday's practice.

REBECCA BREYER | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Quarterback Tyler Graunke looks for a receiver during passing drills.

REBECCA BREYER | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Imagine being in University of Hawai'i slotback Jason Ferguson's football cleats.

His twice surgically repaired right knee is a cat's cradle of frayed ligaments and ground cartilage.

He is doomed to a future of one-story houses and, when he is middle-aged, painful arthritis.

It will be even worse if he injures the knee again.

"There is no third strike," Ferguson was told.

Against that risk, Ferguson's answer should have been obvious, but Dr. Frank Jobe, the famed surgeon to the stars, had to ask anyway: Do you want to continue playing football?

Ferguson did not hesitate, and running a reverse on logic, said: "I'm going for it."

It has been nearly a year since Ferguson suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament on the opening kickoff to the 2005 season, and three years since the initial injury as a Fairfax High senior. It does not appear he will be available until mid-season. But he does not regret this comeback.

"As of right now, because of the two surgeries, the arthritis I'll have in my knee will be substantial," Ferguson said. "I'll deal with the risk. It's something I want that bad. I'm going to have to tell my (future) kids: 'I love you, but I'm going to have throw you the ball, and you're going to have to bring it back to me.' I'm fine with that.

"I'm so close. I can't walk away now. Until I can't run anymore, until my brain can't comprehend this offense, that's what it will take for me to give it up. I don't want to be an old man asking: 'Why did I quit? Why did I quit when I was so close?' I'll be limping around when I'm an old man, but I'll worry about that then."

Without proper context, Ferguson's decision makes little sense.

"You have to understand how much I love football," he said. "Football has helped me so much. It's been my love. I can't walk away from my love."

Ferguson knows about abandoning opportunities. When he was a high school freshman, Ferguson was recruited to audition for a musical group.

He aced the screening, and spent a month living with the group B2K.

It was decided Ferguson would not be a fit with B2K. Instead, Chris Stokes who discovered Brandy and managed Immature and Marques Houston offered Ferguson a recording deal with TUG (The Ultimate Group) Records.

Ferguson recorded a demo, "She is My Girl," with B2K singing the hook.

But Stokes' offer came with certain conditions. Ferguson would have to withdraw from high school.

"It wasn't like, 'OK, I'll work with you when you're available,'" Ferguson recalled. "It was either, 'You're in or you're not in.' "

After a family meeting, Ferguson said, "My mom and dad came to the conclusion that they wanted me to go to school. At the time, I wasn't really feeling that. But when it boiled down to it, it was the right decision."

Ferguson wanted to play football, but there was one hitch: As a sophomore, he was 5 feet 2 and 130 pounds.

"My mom made a deal with the coach that I could only have a certain number of touches every game," Ferguson said.

His focus on football, Ferguson said, distracted him from the pull of the streets in his Los Angeles neighborhood of South Central the tug that eventually ensnared his best friend, Dominque "Domo" Wade.

"He got shot in the back, four times," Ferguson said. "He made some bad decisions. It's a shame. He was skilled. I'm blessed. I would have been in the same situation except for football. Football put me in a great situation. I was at practice while they were in the streets. I'm tired at home, sleeping, while they're out smoking and drinking."

At UH, he was living in a perfect football world. Last year, Ferguson and Davone Bess were named the starting slotbacks. For the opener against top-ranked Southern California, Ferguson was selected as one of the Warriors' three captains.

Then came the injury on the kickoff he was not supposed to have received. He filled in for freshman Mikhail Kafentzis, who was looking for his prescribed medication on the sideline.

After the game, Ferguson recalled, "I was on crutches. I went straight to (running back) Nate Ilaoa, and told him, 'I'm done with this whole sport. ... But later, after the surgery, when the hard part was over, I knew I couldn't quit. I got hurt playing the game I love. I was right there. I never got to taste it. How could I leave?

"When the doctor asked me straight up: 'Do you want to play again?' After all that football has meant to me, what do you think I was going to say?"


  • Josh Berry, who joined the Warriors as a walk-on, is moving from running back to linebacker.

    "I'm just a defensive player," said Berry, of Sparks, Nev. "I don't really feel I fit at running back right now. I'm antsy to hit somebody."

  • Left cornerback A.J. Martinez (groin injury) returned to practice yesterday but not the starting lineup. He had missed four of the previous five practices.

    Kenny Patton, last year's starting left cornerback, worked with the first team.

    Asked who was ahead, defensive coordinator Jerry Glanville said, "probably 24 (Patton). But we're not playing today, and it will change two or three times."

    Jones said Martinez, Patton, C.J. Hawthorne, Myron Newberry and Gerard Lewis are competing for the two starting jobs.

    "All five have a chance to play," Jones said.

  • Jason Rivers appears to be ahead in his battle against Chad Mock at left wideout.

    "Jason and Chad have had good camps, but Jason has had a little better camp," Jones said.

  • At right wideout, Ian Sample, who is competing against Ross Dickerson, did not practice yesterday afternoon because of a strained groin injury.The starting jobs are expected to be cemented by the end of next week.

  • Elliott Purcell, a freshman defensive end, received permission to leave camp because of an illness. He is expected to rejoin the team on Saturday.

  • Aaron Bain, who is listed as the top backup to right slotback Ryan Grice-Mullins, said he earned the nickname "Yoda" as a Saint Louis School seventh-grader.

    "It's because I was the smallest guy on the team," he said.

    Reach Stephen Tsai at stsai@honoluluadvertiser.com.