July 16, 2009
Josh Ferguson was pleased when he first learned he was selected to participate in the annual Bernard Blackwell Classic.
The football game, which will be at 7 tonight at Hale-Robinson Stadium on the campus of Mississippi College, pits some of the state''s top outgoing seniors from the South against the North. It is a final opportunity for high school standouts to take the field before they play their first games in college.
Ferguson was slated to play defense in the game, but he learned earlier this week that the absence of several players has given him a chance to move to offense.
The former New Hope High standout now will showcase his game-breaking speed from the inside slot receiver position.
"I came down here thinking I was going to be a defensive back, but now I am playing slot, which is mainly what I wanted to play," said Ferguson, who signed a scholarship to play football at East Mississippi Community College. "When I found out I was really satisfied. I want to show the coaches down here what I can do on the field."
Brandon Anderson (Amory), Gabe Rupert (West Point), Enoch Glenn and Warren Jones (Noxubee County), and Tanner Roberson (East Webster) also will represent the area at the game, which is sponsored by Russell Athletic and Rex Team Sports.
Senatobia High''s Phil Oakley will be the head coach for the North team. New Hope High''s Michael Bradley will join East Side High''s Tavares Johnson, Gentry High''s Malcolm Jones, Senatobia''s Carter Norris, Bruce High''s James Ray, and Cleveland High''s Greg Robinson as assistant coaches.
Bradley said it is an "honor" to coach in the game. He said he has used the time this week to build relationships with coaches and to help Ferguson and lineman Michael Murphy, who joined the team this week, prepare for their next steps.
"Josh is hanging in there," Bradley said. "Josh has good speed, and everybody here has good speed. He is adjusting to the speed of the guys he is going against."
Bradley said he is happy Murphy, a defensive end and a long snapper, will get a chance to play in the game. Even though it is July, he said Murphy, who hasn''t secured an offer to play football this year, has a chance to impress someone and possibly to earn a chance to play football in college.
"I called him Monday and I didn''t have to get it out (to ask him if he wanted to play in the game) before he said, ''Heck yeah I want to play,'' " Bradley said. "It is another opportunity to put the pads on and to play in a football game and maybe someone will see him and find a spot for him."
Bradley said it might seem unlikely but that every year somebody comes away with college money that they didn''t have before the game.
"I hope every one of our kids gets an opportunity to do that," Bradley said.
Ferguson said temperatures at practice this week have been "real, real hot." He said the work in those conditions will help to give him an advantage hen he returns to Scooba to return to the workouts for the EMCC football team.
"It is going to help a whole lot," Ferguson said. "Some of the other guys are back at home laying around and chillin'', but we are working out in the heat and it is giving us a head start on it."
Ferguson said EMCC started its offseason conditioning work in late May. He said he already has gained five pounds and has added 30 pounds to his bench press and nearly 100 pounds to his squats. He hopes that work will help him make an impact as a slot receiver for the Lions.
"They told me they want me to keep working hard and that they will try to keep the ball in my hands and give me a chance to take over the game," Ferguson said.
Mississippi State coach Arthur "Slick" Morton originated started the game in 1950. The Mississippi Association of Coaches assumed sponsorship of the game from the Jackson Touchdown Club in 1993.
The game was renamed in 1994 for coach Bernard Blackwell, the late executive director of the MAC.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.