Riley Ferguson calm, confident about Vols' quarterback job

Riley Ferguson calm, confident about Vols' quarterback job

May 29th, 2013 by Patrick Brown in Sports - College

Riley Ferguson

Photo by The Charlotte Observer/Diedra Laird

KNOXVILLE - When Riley Ferguson quarterbacked Butler High School to two North Carolina state football championships in the past three seasons, he relied on his calm, cool approach.

Now he'll try to apply the same method as a Tennessee freshman.

One of two newcomers to the quarterback competition the Volunteers began with Justin Worley and Nathan Peterman during spring practice, Ferguson will arrive in Knoxville later this week with his typical confidence.

"Everybody gets nervous at some point, but I try to limit the nerves," he told the Times Free Press last week. "I don't like getting really, really nervous because I like keeping my head calm and keeping a straight head. I feel pretty confident coming in.

"I'm just going to work hard and do the best I can and try to impress the coaches enough to where I can get the starting job."

It'd be an impressive feat if either the 6-foot-3, 190-pound Ferguson or fellow first-year quarterback Josh Dobbs can nab the top spot on Tennessee's depth chart.

Asked after one of the Volunteers' last spring practices to recall a time when he's started a true freshman to open a season, offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian drew a blank.

Auburn's Jonathan Wallace and Kentucky's Jalen Whitlow were the lone true freshmen to start for SEC programs in 2012. The Vols started a first-year quarterback in 2010 (Tyler Bray) and 2011 (Worley), and Erik Ainge and Brent Schaeffer began the 2004 season as co-starters.

Ferguson realizes, though, he has some time on campus to focus on improving and adapting to his new team before training camp starts in August.

Butler's Riley Ferguson (10) throws downfield against Jack Britt defenders in the first half of the N.C. 4AA football championship game at Kenan Stadium in Chapel Hill on December 1, 2012. Butler won the championship, 56-28.

Photo by Contributed Photo/Times Free Press.

"I'm definitely trying to get bigger," he said. "That's what I've been focusing on the most. When I get there, I'm going to have to learn the playbook and get to know that as fast as possible.

"That's what I think is going to be the key."

Tennessee's coaches sent packets with the basics of the playbook to both incoming quarterbacks, and Ferguson said he's been studying it in addition to weight training, conditioning and throwing sessions with four Butler teammates bound for Bowl Subdivision programs, including Michigan defensive back Channing Stribling and Georgia receiver Uriah LeMay.

Ferguson, who committed to Tennessee's former staff 11 months ago and remained loyal to the Vols through the coaching change, said he's maintained continuous communication with Bajakian and first-year head coach Butch Jones.

"I can call Coach Bajakian whenever I want. That's my coach," he said. "I talk to him about three times a week. I call him pretty often. Coach Jones, I call him maybe once or twice every two weeks.

"They've been really good with that. Every time they call me, they ask how I've been doing and what I've been doing and check up on me. Not everything's football. They ask how my school has been going and all that kind of stuff, and I like that a lot. I can talk to them about whatever."

In Butler's offense, Ferguson spent most of his time lining up in the shotgun, and though he's not a burner with his feet, he does have the athletic ability and mobility to extend and make plays.

In addition to his own playbook he's been reviewing, Ferguson got a chance to see the offense in person during one spring practice and the spring game, during which he was able to see how Worley and Peterman performed.

"I like the offense a lot," he said. "Justin and Nathan, they did pretty good. There was some stuff they had to work on, but it's the spring game and that's the whole purpose of the game: You get to see what the team has to work on and things like that and see how the team's looking.

"The offense got put in not too long before the spring game, so I think they did a pretty good job in that kind of way."

As he enters the Vols' quarterback fray, Ferguson plans to approach it the only way he knows how.

"[The coaches] just said to come in ready to compete," he said, "and I told them, 'Yes, sir, I'm coming in to compete.' I'm definitely trying to become the starter, so I'm going to do whatever it takes to get that. I'm just trying to show everybody that I can do it and just show them that it's possible."

Contact Patrick Brown at pbrown@timesfreepress.com or 901-581-7288. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/patrickbrowntfp.