published Friday, March 1st, 2013

Riley Ferguson embraces Vols' quarterback battle

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    Butler's Riley Ferguson (10) throws downfield. Photo: The Charlotte Observer

KNOXVILLE — The determination and motivation are easy to discern in Riley Ferguson's voice.

The Tennessee quarterback signee from Butler High School near Charlotte, N.C., clearly has his gaze turned toward the competition he'll join this summer.

"I've thought about the competition, but there's going to be competition everywhere," Ferguson said Wednesday morning. "I just have to look at it how I looked at it coming into high school: There's going to be people above me, but I just have to show my coaches and everybody around me on my team that I can get the job done and I can be the starter. Whoever is best for the job gets it."

Tyler Bray's early departure for the NFL left the Volunteers and new coach Butch Jones with just two scholarship quarterbacks: rising junior Justin Worley and redshirt freshman Nathan Peterman.

To reach his quota at the position, Jones solidified Ferguson's verbal commitment, pursued and landed Alpharetta (Ga.) High School's Josh Dobbs and handed a preferred walk-on spot to Charlie High, the record-setting passer from Christian Academy of Knoxville.

A starter on two of Butler's three state championship teams during his high school career, Ferguson committed to the Vols in June while Derek Dooley was Tennessee's coach and said he "really wasn't looking around" during the Tennessee coaching change. At 6-foot-3 and 190 pounds, he has a quick release with a strong arm and likes his ability to extend plays with his mobility. He held offers from Alabama, LSU, Michigan, Notre Dame and others.

"I was committed to Tennessee because of the university," he said. "I wasn't committed just because of the coaching staff. I liked Coach Dooley, but things happen and you have to move forward and make things work with what you've got, and that's how I've looked at it.

"I've always been committed to Tennessee, and I liked everything about it when I was there."

Jones said he sees Ferguson as a winner.

"We went back and watched everything, and I love everything he's about," Jones said. "I believe he's only lost one football game in his career as a starting quarterback. He's extremely competitive."

Tennessee was one of 10 SEC programs that signed two quarterbacks in 2013.

Despite the presence of Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M signed Kohl Stewart and Kenny Hill, two four-star prospects according to 247sports. LSU signed Anthony Jennings and Hayden Rettig, two of 247sports' top 15 pro-style quarterbacks. Auburn, Arkansas, Alabama, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Vanderbilt and Missouri also signed two quarterbacks.

It made sense for Jones to include two quarterbacks in his first signing class, given the current roster and the talent of Ferguson and Dobbs, who both were invited to the prestigious Elite 11 camp last summer.

Offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian said on signing day the Vols' new staff was "very open" in informing Ferguson of the desire to bring in a second quarterback.

"Coach Jones said it: It's about relationships, and relationships are built on trust," he said. "As soon as it became evident that Tyler Bray was no longer going to be here and that we only had two scholarship quarterbacks on the roster, we called up Riley and addressed the issue and told him, 'Hey, we're going to need to bring in another quarterback.' Since early in our arrival, we made that clear, and again [it's] just an opportunity to create competition."

When Ferguson took his official visit to Tennessee in January, the Vols also hosted John Franklin, a dual-threat quarterback who was committed to Florida State and who later signed with the Seminoles.

"They told me they were going to bring in another quarterback, [but] they really didn't tell me much about recruiting another top quarterback like that," Ferguson said. "It's whatever. They have to get the best competition and best people at that school so they can do their jobs and win football games.

"If they feel he's a good [player] and he needs to come to the school, I'm going to go there and compete with him and do whatever it takes to show them I can do everything in the offense and I can help our team win some games."

Dobbs said last week he didn't let Ferguson's presence or the current roster affect his decision to flip to the Vols from his longtime verbal commitment to Arizona State.

"I know Riley from the Elite 11 and he's a very good player," he said, "and they already have good quarterbacks on [campus], so I know it's going to be a competition."

And that's exactly what Jones wants.

"It's like I tell all of the individuals: I want them coming in with the mentality that they're competing to play," he said. "I just think that's extremely healthy. We never promise anybody playing time, but what we do promise them is the opportunity to compete early.

"I think when you look at the depth chart, that was extremely attractive to a lot of these individuals. I want individuals coming in [who] have enough confidence and work ethic that they're coming in with the mentality that they're playing and not coming in with the mentality that they're going to redshirt."

Ferguson is comfortable in the shotgun because his high school offense used it so much, and he said he hopes to have throwing sessions with Vols receiver signee MarQuez North, who played at nearby Mallard Creek, a couple of times a week between now and their June arrivals in Knoxville. Like Dobbs, Ferguson will receive bits and pieces of Tennessee's offense as they're installed this spring.

"I'm very excited to get there and start working," he said. "I'm ready to get there and show everybody I've got the talent, and I'm going to work hard regardless of the situation or anything. I'm always going to work hard and do whatever it takes to become the starter and do whatever it takes for the team."

about Patrick Brown...

Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...

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