For three years, Copley’s Phil Ferguson was one of the fastest men on the University of Akron track and field team, running the 100, 200 and 400 meters.
Now he’s racing toward a new goal as a member of the football team. A senior, Ferguson, is trading the title of sprinter for that of wide receiver — or at least making the attempt during spring practice.
“I’ve done track for three years and I’ve done pretty well in it,” Ferguson said after Thursday’s practice session. “Sometimes your heart just tells you what you want to do and my heart was telling me try this football thing out because it could be a good thing for you.”
He had the support of his parents, but at lease one person thought he needed to think twice.
Considering the fact that Ferguson had never played a down of football beyond flag and touch, that was understandable.
“I tried to do everything I could to discourage him from playing football,” UA coach Terry Bowden said. “He was a MAC champion in a couple of events. He had a full track scholarship. I said I can’t promise you anything except a chance. Then I said please, go talk to your coach.”
He spoke to coach Dennis Mitchell, who offered his support.
“He pretty much told me to follow my heart. We can develop [my] speed and hopefully that can translate to the football field,” he said. “They were pretty cool about it and they wished me the best of luck with everything that goes on on the football field. We’re all Akron.”
Spring football culminates with the spring game on April 21, which means much of the outdoor season will remain, along with a chance to run, but will he?
“We’re working on it,” Ferguson said. “I’m not sure if I’m going to run some relays because I’m focused on this football thing because I haven’t done it before. I’m trying to really work on being the best I can be.”
He’s well aware that such a decision might lead some to think that he’s taken leave of his senses.
“Sometimes I think so when I’m out here,” he said with a laugh.
Bowden has told him that it won’t be easy for him either.
“He’s still got a long road to hoe. He’s working very hard, making some plays but there are no guarantees,” Bowden said. “He’s got some players out there that have been playing football all their life.”
Bowden has laid out expectations for Ferguson. That being the case, Ferguson plans to pursue kickoff-return duties in addition to receiver.
“As I told him, when you run deep you better outrun everybody because that’s what you’re here for — you can run,” Bowden said. “That’s what we’re trying to make sure we get him to understand. I’ve got to be able to utilize my track skills to make myself effective here.”
This isn’t the first time he’s abruptly switched athletic careers.
Ferguson played baseball for 13 years before giving it up and switching to track in his senior year at Copley. Now he’s making arguably the most difficult change in sports.
“I’m getting better every day. I’m working on getting off jams — the tight coverage — that’s the toughest part,” Ferguson said. “When I’m able to do that and get around somebody, I feel my speed will help the team out a little bit.”
George M. Thomas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Zips blog at https://ohio.com/zips. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/GeorgeThomasABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.