- Scott Powers, ESPN Staff Writer
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The only promise Joliet Catholic’s Josh Ferguson asked for when he committed to Illinois Fighting Illini was that they keep him at running back.
He never requested for them not to recruit a better player at his position in the Class of 2011. He wasn’t seeking guaranteed playing time.
“That’s what I’ve been doing all my life,” Ferguson said of being a running back. “A couple MAC schools wanted to move me to receiver. I haven’t played receiver at all. I just wanted to keeping doing what I’ve been doing.”
As long as he is able to play, Ferguson believes he will take care of the rest himself. Competition isn’t something Ferguson shies away from. He even had to battle with two other high-level running backs, one being a 2012 Big Ten recruit, for carries in his own high school’s backfield.
That Illinois is also signing Donovonn Young, a more highly-rated running back, on Wednesday doesn’t bother Ferguson.
“We play this game for that very reason -- to compete,” Ferguson said. “I think it’s wide open. I’m ready to compete, to see what happens. As a running back you want a couple running backs to compete with and just have an opportunity.”
Joliet Catholic coach Dan Sharp has always admired Ferguson for that mentality. Ferguson never complained about having to share the load with sophomore Ty Isaac and Northwestern recruit Malin Jones.
“He was a great teammate,” Sharp said. “We were blessed to have a young man like Josh, not just for his talent. We’ll miss him dearly. With all his skills, I can’t see him not being successful at Illinois.”
Ferguson was a jack of all trades for Sharp. He ran the ball, caught it and returned punts and kickoffs. Every time Ferguson got a touch, the odds were pretty good he was going to do something special.
Ferguson had 12 plays of 60 yards or more during his senior year. He averaged 13.1 yards per carry, rushing for 1,886 yards on 144 carries. He scored 25 rushing touchdowns, two receiving touchdowns and returned one kickoff for a touchdown.
“He gives you that big play a lot of teams get out of their passing game,” Sharp said. “We get it out of our running game. We’re just as likely to go 80 yards handing the ball off to him. His speed and ability to make guys miss are his strengths. He can cut so quick. You think you have an angle on him, and he’s gone. He was definitely the fastest and most elusive back we’ve had.”
Sharp compared him to a high school version of Barry Sanders. The 5-foot-8, 170-pound Ferguson said he tried to emulate Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson, a back of similar size. Either way, he brings something different to the table to than Illinois’ last two star running backs Rashard Mendenhall and Mikel Leshoure -- both were bigger and more powerful.
“I definitely am a different back than them,” Ferguson said. “I’m smaller, but I hope to be the next one in that line.”
2011 PLAYER COMMITS
Here's a list of the players committed to Ron Zook and the University of Illinois.