ORONO — Chris Ferguson takes the snap and surveys the field, first looking right to draw the safety that way. As he slides up into the pocket to avoid a pass rusher from the left, he turns slightly and throws a dart to his left, to a receiver running into the space left empty by the safety.

It’s only one play of many in this practice, but it displayed some of the talents – strong arm, patience, pocket sense, agility – that prompted the University of Maine’s coaching staff to give the reins of their offense to a 19-year-old redshirt freshman. Maine opens its season at 7 p.m. Thursday against rival New Hampshire at Wildcat Stadium in Durham, New Hampshire.

“He’s accurate, composed, brings a lot of energy, his leadership has been outstanding,” said Liam Coen, the Black Bears offensive coordinator. “We really like the way he’s responded to being named the starter. Now we just want him to be himself and not try to do too much.”

And who is Chris Ferguson?

He was raised in Fort Washington, Pennsylvania, the second youngest of 11 children of Pat and Mary Ferguson. He’s a jokester according to some teammates, always ready with a prank or a joke. To others, he’s deathly serious, especially when it comes to football – showing up an hour early to practice and never missing a day in the weight room. He works diligently on his craft, focused on doing the little things to make himself better.

He’s a Philadelphia Eagles fan, naturally, but loves Tom Brady, “even though he beat my (Eagles) in the Super Bowl (in 2005).”

“He understands that here’s a guy (Brady) who put the work in to be successful,” said Pat Ferguson. “He puts the effort in and it’s obvious that Tom Brady is successful because of the amount of work he puts into it. Who wouldn’t want to be that guy?”

More than anything, his teammates – current and former – see someone who is mature beyond his age.

“Ever since Ferg got here,” said Jamil Demby, the senior left tackle, “even though he was a young kid, when he’s on the field he acts and carries himself as if he’s a senior quarterback. He has a lot of maturity. He controls the huddle, he manages the offense.”

Ferguson’s maturity apparently extends beyond the playing field. “He wears dad clothes,” said Maine junior linebacker Sterling Sheffield.

Asked what he meant, Sheffield said, “Well, you know, he came in here wearing those preppy clothes. Now he’s wearing something that … my dad would wear. I don’t know how else to explain it.”

Apparently he’s always been that way, even back at LaSalle College High School, just outside Philadelphia.

“He was known as ‘Dad Guy,'” said Nick Rinella, a teammate of Ferguson at LaSalle and now a starting safety at Saint Francis University. “He loved to wear dad shoes and dad clothes. He shopped at Whole Foods. He just acted like an older guy.”

That maturity translated well onto the football field.

“He wants to be a leader,” said Najee Goode, Maine’s senior cornerback.

Chris Ferguson got his introduction to football by attending Eagles’ games with his dad. “That was our thing,” said Chris Ferguson. “It gave me some motivation, too.”

He would take in the spectacle of the NFL and decided he wanted to be part of it. When he started playing football, he quickly learned, after playing tight end and punter, he wanted to be the quarterback.

“When you’re in a game and throwing it to everyone, you get to be the guy that everyone looks to,” he said. “That’s where I flourish, being a leader.”

But Ferguson, who also played basketball and lacrosse in high school, had to wait until his senior year to become LaSalle’s starting quarterback.

“It wasn’t for a lack of talent,” said John Steinmetz, Ferguson’s coach at LaSalle. No, there was a kid named Kyle Shurmur in front of him. Shurmur, son of Pat Shurmur (former head coach of the Cleveland Browns and now the offensive coordinator for Minnesota) has started at Vanderbilt for two years.

But Ferguson never stopped working while he was the backup. “Chris practiced every day his sophomore and junior year like he was the starter,” said Steinmetz. “He practiced like he was ready, so when he started he was not only physically ready, but mentally ready to take the job.”

And once Ferguson was the starter, Steinmetz said, “He was a really good leader. He knew what he was doing and that was another component that set him apart as a leader. The kids had confidence in him because he knew what he was doing.”

Steinmetz credited Ferguson’s family with much of his success. “He’s just got some really good family roots,” he said. “Chris had a great sense of family and a great support system.”

A lot came from his father.

“I’m old school,” said Pat Ferguson. “All I can say is that he listened to me.”

LaSalle would win the Philadelphia Catholic League 4A championship when Ferguson threw a 23-yard touchdown pass to Rinella with less than a minute play to beat rival St. Joseph’s Prep, 29-28.

“That play alone made everything worth it,” said Ferguson.

“There were times when Chris got down, especially when he was a backup,” said Rinella. “He wanted to play so much. But I’m not surprised by anything he’s done.

“Chris has got physical gifts. And no one out-works him.”

Because he had only one year of tape, Ferguson didn’t get many scholarship offers. One came from Maine, another from Bryant.

When Ferguson and his father visited Orono, they knew this was where he wanted – where he needed – to be. “When I came here and met the coaches, just seeing them was enough,” said Chris Ferguson. “But seeing the school was awesome. It’s a Division I program. They play great football. It’s a beautiful campus. The weather is perfect. It was perfect.”

During his official visit to UMaine two winters ago, Ferguson and his father met with Joe Harasymiak, Maine’s second-year head coach, who told them to take a couple of days to think about the offer.

They went back to the car and talked for a few minutes. Ferguson then put on a Maine baseball cap and went inside to tell Harasymiak he was coming to Orono. He knocked on the door once, twice, three times. “I’m thinking, who would knock on my door?” said Harasymiak, who was with another recruit. “I was getting upset. Finally I opened the door and it was Chris, wearing his Maine hat, and his dad.”

“I’m coming here,” said Ferguson. And they all celebrated.

Ferguson, who has yet to declare an academic major, made an immediate impact as a freshman on the scout team. “He gave us a great look,” said Sheffield. “He gave our secondary as much trouble as anyone.”

This year, Ferguson set out to win the job from Drew Belcher, a redshirt junior with nine starts in his career, and Max Staver, a grad student transfer who played briefly at Florida. After weeks of steadily improving, Harasymiak and Coen made the announcement that Ferguson had the job.

“There’s just something about him,” said Harasymiak. “He’s got the makeup of a quarterback that you want leading your program.”

And Ferguson can’t wait for the opener against UNH.

“I think about it every night, every day in practice it’s on my mind,” he said. “When the time comes, I’ll be ready.”

Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or:

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