Ferguson ready to shoulder the load

Published 08/06 2014 05:25PM

Updated 08/06 2014 06:37PM

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - For the first time Josh Ferguson is the go-to guy in the Illinois backfield heading into the season.  It's a title and a responsibility the redshirt junior is still getting accustomed to.

"It's a little more pressure," Ferguson said of being the featured back.  "Being the understudy you can get away with little things but not so much as a leader.  You have more pressure to do well and be perfect - but I like it."

Ferguson had a breakout season last year.  He was projected to split time with Donovonn Young, but he took over the starting job after racking up 152 all-purpose yards in the first game of the season.  He went on to set Illinois' single season record for receiving yards by a running back.  He was second in the nation in that category, averaging 45 yards per game.

"He's such a good route runner and with the ball in his hands we really don't have anybody like him," said offensive coordinator Bill Cubit.  "That's not being negative to anyone else, that's just how special I think the kid is."

Cubit said he doesn't care if Ferguson has more reception than rushes; he is more worried about keeping him on the field.  Ferguson didn't play a big role late in games last year - especially early in the season - mainly because Cubit didn't want to burn him out too quickly.

"He's a game breaker and you wear him out in the second and third quarter so hopefully we can fix that problem," Cubit said.

To help carry that bigger load, Ferguson bulked up this offseason; he gained about ten pounds.  He says he has gained 20 pounds since he first stepped on campus three years ago, and it should help him this season.

"Going into the offseason, I just wanted to focus on particular things and being in the offense for the second year helped a lot in being comfortable to do that," said Ferguson.

The Joliet-native says he's more comfortable running the ball, but he's open to catching as many passes as he can.  Cubit has even called a few plays out of the wildcat for him, meaning he could even get a chance to throw it.

"The arm is good," Fergusons aid.  "I'm ready to go."

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