ORONO, Maine — Liam Coen, the University of Maine football team’s offensive coordinator, said one of the attributes possessed by new starting quarterback Chris Ferguson is his competitive nature.
When you are the 10th of 11 children in your family, you have to be competitive. The redshirt freshman has nine sisters and a brother.
“We’re definitely a competitive family,” said Ferguson on Monday. “ A couple of my sisters played Division I basketball and lacrosse. My little sister (Lizzy) is looking to play lacrosse and volleyball. We also have a couple of singers in the family. There’s a whole range of things.”
“My dad (Pat) is really competitive in everything,” grinned Ferguson. “Growing up, we played a lot of golf. We still do. No matter what we did, he always wanted to beat me. Then I got good enough to beat him.”.
His father attended all of UMaine’s games last season even though his son was a redshirt.
Another of Ferguson’s chief competitors was Lizzy.
“We’d come up with different games,” said Ferguson who also competes with older brother Pat in a variety of activities including ping-pong and cards.
Ferguson was named the starter for the season-opener at the University of New Hampshire on Saturday morning. The archrivals square off on Thursday night, Aug. 31 in Durham, N.H.
He had come into training camp as the No. 3 quarterback on the depth chart behind graduate student-transfer Max Staver and redshirt junior Drew Belcher. Belcher was moved to tight end/H-back on Sunday.
Coen said he knew Ferguson was a competitor when he took his official visit to UMaine.
“We took him to the arcade. He was an excellent bowler, nobody beat him in ping-pong and he was good at pool. He was a competitor and a winner,” said Coen.
But it was his passing “accuracy” that landed Ferguson him the starting job, according to Coen.
UMaine keeps statistics during the preseason which includes the two scrimmage games and competitive situations during regular practices.
“He has completed 79 of 116 passes (68.1 percent) with nine touchdowns and one interception. And he had eight passes dropped,” Coen said.
“He has a quick release and he puts it in there so the receivers can make plays after the catch,” said Coen. “He’s more of a pocket passer but he has good feet so he can run if he has to.”
UMaine head coach Joe Harasymiak said Ferguson has done the best job and he gives his team the best chance to win.
“We knew he was coming along and he came along maybe a little quicker than we thought. He’s just a kid who works hard and you know those kids are going to be fine,” he said.
Ferguson spent some of his summer in California working with quarterback guru Tom House, a former big league pitcher, including a stint with the Boston Red Sox, and members of his staff.
“I worked a lot with Taylor Kelly, who played quarterback at Arizona State,” said Ferguson.
House and the staff have worked with the likes of several NFL quarterbacks including last season’s Super Bowl rivals, New England’s Tom Brady and Atlanta’s Matt Ryan. New Orleans’ Drew Brees and Cincinnati’s Andy Dalton are among their other clients.
Ferguson has also spent a lot of time with Coen and UMaine offensive line/run game coordinator Brian Picucci and that has been beneficial in understanding the offense as well as opposing defenses.
“I’m a lot better than I was a year ago,” said Ferguson. “College defenses are more complex and harder. You have to be able to throw the ball with confidence. You have to just rip it without thinking about it and worrying that you’re going to miss the throw.”
Ferguson also noted that by gaining knowledge, confidence and physical improvement, it enables him to “slow the game down” and check out all of his potential receivers while standing in the pocket.
“I’m able to go through my reads and with that comes accuracy,” he said.
Coen said Ferguson is a poised leader who is intelligent and makes good decisions.
“He has always been a leader, not just on the field but off the field, too, in school and in the weight room,” said sophomore wide receiver Earnest Edwards.
Edwards added that they have a lot of fast receivers and Ferguson is able to hit them with the deep ball.
Just as importantly, Ferguson takes what defenses give him even if it is just a minimal-gain pass underneath the coverage.
“It’s important for quarterbacks to do that but it’s hard to learn, too,” admitted Ferguson. “You see something and you really want to chuck the ball. But if you watch Brady and [others] whatever the defense gives them, they keep taking it and taking it until they can’t. And then they hit them with something else.
“If you can get that mindset, it’s really important,” said Ferguson.
Ferguson, a 6-foot-4, 226-pound native of Fort Washington, Pennsylvania who led La Salle Academy to Philadelphia Catholic League 4A and District 12 City of Philadelphia 4A championships, said he hasn’t been surprised that he won the job.
“I expected it out of myself. If I hadn’t gotten the job, I would have been hard on myself,” said Ferguson, an all-conference first teamer.
He will continue to follow the advice of his father and others who convinced him to relax, play football and have fun.
“Everything else will follow,” he said.
Belcher looking forward to position change
Belcher, who saw action as the Black Bear quarterback in 18 games during the 2014 and 2015 seasons before redshirting last season, said he is looking forward to his new position as a tight end/H-back.
An H-back doesn’t line up on the line of scrimmage like a tight end. He is set back from the line of scrimmage.
“I played it in practice yesterday and I like it,” Belcher said. “Obviously I know the whole offense and stuff so it’s been an easy transition. It’s just a matter of getting reps and doing it. I’m already ahead of the game mentally. I know all of the routes and most of the blocking schemes. It’s been easy so far.”
Belcher was the team’s second leading rusher in 2014 and ‘15.
“He did a real nice job on Sunday and we’re going to continue to progress him,” said Harasymiak. “He’s a great athlete and a great football player and I hope he can help us win some games. We’re going to line him up in many places. The goal is to have him out there against UNH.”
“It’s weird not having him wear the red jersey [that quarterbacks wear] in practice. And he was actually running. He looked gassed,” joked Edwards. “It’s going to be fun. He’ll help us. He has good hands.”