BY ZACH EWING Californian staff writer firstname.lastname@example.org
It's been a long and winding road for former Ridgeview quarterback Tyler Ferguson, and it's about to head east.
Ferguson, who spent this semester at College of the Sequoias, signed a letter of intent Wednesday to play football for Penn State, where he will enroll Jan. 4 and begin competition for the open starting quarterback job in spring practice.
"It's a dream come true," he said after signing at Glinn & Giordano Physical Therapy on 23rd Street in Bakersfield. "The way I think about it, though, the work's just beginning. Once you get here, you can't be happy with just signing. I want to go out there and be the best quarterback I can be."
You couldn't blame Ferguson if he took a minute to reflect. After transferring from Bakersfield High, Ferguson started for Ridgeview as a junior and senior before breaking his collarbone midway through his senior season.
He returned in time for the Central Section semifinals but only saw limited playing time.
The injury might also have cost Ferguson a spot at a Division I school. The colleges that contacted him early in the season backed off, and Ferguson was left without a scholarship.
"Coming out of high school and seeing 180 quarterbacks getting a scholarship, I thought, 'What the heck?'" Ferguson said. "I actually thought about playing Division III basketball. But I've had that extra year to mature instead. I'm really happy with the way things worked out."
Ferguson landed at College of the Sequoias in Visalia, where he broke the single-season school records for completions (199) and passing yards (2,614) and put on 40 pounds to what is now a 6-foot-5, 210-pound frame.
Finally, he had caught the attention of D-I recruiters. Offers came in from Akron, Florida Atlantic and Houston, to whom Ferguson originally gave a verbal commitment.
But the white elephant in the conversation was the team with the white helmets. Penn State coach Bill O'Brien presented an offer to Ferguson last week.
"I mulled it over, called Houston the next day and de-committed and then the next morning (Saturday), I called and committed to Penn State," Ferguson said.
Penn State is a traditional Big Ten Conference and national football power -- "When you think of a big school, you think USC, you think Notre Dame and you think Penn State," Ferguson said -- that plays in a building, Beaver Stadium, that seats more than 100,000.
But the school's football program can't be mentioned these days without a reference to the stain caused by former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky, who was convicted earlier this year of child sexual abuse crimes that ranged over decades.
An investigation commissioned by Penn State's Board of Trustees stated some school officials, including former head coach Joe Paterno, helped cover up Sandusky's actions. The NCAA used the report as evidence to hit the Nittany Lions with a four-year postseason ban that still has three years left.
None of this deterred Ferguson.
"Not at all," he said. "Coach O'Brien and Penn State are starting a new legacy. This is the new era of Penn State football."
Likewise, Ferguson said the postseason ban wasn't a big deal to him.
"A lot of schools raised that point against Penn State," he said. "But when you're playing against Ohio State or Michigan, in the Horseshoe or the Big House, to get that experience, that's just like a bowl game."
Penn State's starting quarterback this fall, Matt McGloin, was a senior, and the other quarterbacks on the roster have a combined eight career attempts.
"They told me I'd be right in there to become the starter," said Ferguson, who has four years to complete three remaining years of eligibility.
That's also the case for another local junior-college success story, former Bakersfield High and Bakersfield College quarterback Brian Burrell. He said Wednesday afternoon he planned to fax his letter of intent to Fresno State later in the evening.
Burrell helped the Drillers to the Division I section championship game in 2010, missed most of the 2011 season at BC because of injury and then returned this fall to throw for 2,555 yards and lead the Renegades to a state championship.
Now he'll presumably use an extra redshirt year, because of that injury, while Bakersfield Christian's Derek Carr finishes his career as a Bulldog next fall. Then, Burrell will compete for the starting job in 2014.
"I'm happy, thankful I went to BHS," Burrell said. "I loved playing for all the coaches there. Bakersfield College? I was not real excited about going there at first, but it wound up being one of the best things for me."
Only junior-college players who were full academic qualifiers out of high school, like Ferguson and Burrell, were able to sign letters of intent Wednesday. Other junior-college players and all high school players must wait until National Signing Day on Feb. 6.
-- Californian staff writer Jeff Evans contributed to this report