Junior Chris Ferguson is entering his third season as Maine’s starting quarterback. “He has matured so much,” says senior wide receiver Jaquan Blair. “He has grown as a leader and his game has grown because his confidence has grown.” Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

ORONO — Back in June, Chris Ferguson spoke to his father, Pat, about wanting to become a captain on this year’s University of Maine football team.

Although only a junior, Ferguson wanted that responsibility. So after their conversation, he took out a pad of paper and wrote, “I want to be a captain.”

“When you write something down,” he said, “you make it real. It’s not just talk.”

Three weeks ago, Ferguson was, indeed, chosen as one of Maine’s four captains, along with senior wide receiver Jaquan Blair, senior defensive lineman Kayon Whitaker and junior linebacker Deshawn Stevens. And now, in his third season as the Black Bears starting quarterback, he wants to prove that his teammates made a wise choice.

“To be a captain, you’ve got to grab the team and show them that you can be the guy they look to in the fourth quarter, you can be the guy they look to when you’re working in the dome on a Tuesday morning,” he said. “You’re going to bring the energy, set the example … They expect the best out of you.”

Maine, ranked No. 7 in both Football Championship Subdivision preseason polls, opens its 2019 season at 6 p.m. Friday at Alfond Stadium against Sacred Heart. Those who have watched Ferguson over the years say he is primed for a great season.

“He has matured so much,” said Blair. “He has grown as a leader and his game has grown because his confidence has grown. He has the trust of his receivers and tight ends and running backs. We all have the confidence that he can make the right calls. He’s the general.

Chris Ferguson

“He’s been doing a great job, and he’ll show people this year how hard he’s been working in the offseason.”

People from the outside have noticed. Coming off a season in which he threw for 2,372 yards and 22 touchdowns while in leading the Black Bears to a 10-4 record and a spot in the national semifinals for the first time, the 6-foot-4, 230-pound Ferguson was named to the College Football Performance Awards’ Watch List as one of the top 40 offensive players in FCS.

“When we recruited Chris, you knew right away that he came from a strong family and was a great young man,” said Nick Charlton, Maine’s first-year head coach. “And he was a quarterback. You could tell, he had that ‘It’ factor. The thing that he’s improved on the field is his understanding of and ability to execute different plays and react and grow on a daily basis.

“He makes a mistake, he learns from it. He works tirelessly at it. And the guys believe in him.”

Ferguson, 21, won the starting job as a redshirt freshman, beating out returning veteran Drew Belcher (who shifted to tight end) and a grad transfer. He said he’s much more comfortable in his role now. That comes with experience and knowing the expectations, not just of his position, but of the team.

“I think you’ve just got to give your best every day,” he said. “The wins will come. Things will happen the way they should. But we’ve got to put the work in every day, no complacency. We can’t look past any opponent, we’ve got to look at every game as the biggest game. The next game is the biggest. Right now the opener against Sacred Heart is the biggest.”

Chris Ferguson fights for a first down in last year’s season opener against New Hampshire. Ferguson added 15 pounds in the offseason in hopes of better absorbing hits from opponents. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Ferguson missed two games last year – and parts of two others – because of a right shoulder injury. So he bulked up in the offseason, putting on 15 pounds that he hopes will help him better absorb hits. He’s improved his throwing strength and velocity as well.

“Nothing much has changed,” he said. “I still have my speed.”

Tom Brady speed? Or Lamar Jackson speed?

“I think we’re talking Tom Brady speed, unfortunately,” said Ferguson. “But that’s good. I’ve got other strengths. I’ll stick to them.”

It wasn’t just weight and strength that Ferguson improved in the offseason. He has moved off campus and rooms with three others. He cooks his own meals and is eating more nutritiously. Junior center Chris Mulvey, one of his roommates, called Ferguson “messy. But he’s a really good cook.”

Mulvey said Ferguson has the ability to rally his teammates no matter what the situation is. “I think he’s one of the best players in the FCS right now,” he said.

Ferguson credits his faith for much of his success. He said he meets twice a week with Doug Palmeter, a minister on campus, and their talks have not only given him a deeper perspective on his life but brought him closer to his teammates, some of whom accompany him.

“My faith is something I fall back on all the time,” said Ferguson. “I pray before games. We pray as a team before games. It calms me down during games.”

Andre Dresner, Maine’s new offensive coordinator, said everything that Ferguson has done is pointing to a big year.

“He’s clicking,” said Dresner. “He understands what we need on every play. He has really prepared himself for this moment.”

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