By Bill Koch
Enquirer staff writer
He's the jewel of coach Mark Dantonio's first University of Cincinnati recruiting class, one of the top running backs in Ohio, a back so talented he seemed destined to play in the Big Ten or the Pac-10.
But during the ninth week of the season, on Oct. 19 of last year, Delbert Ferguson's future was thrown off track.
Playing for Warren Harding High School against Massillon, he was making a cut when one of the Tigers' safeties rammed into his left thigh with his helmet. Ferguson fell to the turf with a broken femur and had to undergo surgery.
When he did, many of the schools that had been recruiting him fell out of the running.
"I had Iowa, Syracuse, Washington State, Michigan State," Ferguson said Wednesday. "We had a lot of schools to choose from, but when I broke my leg, all of them went different places. It came down to Washington State, which stayed with me, and Cincinnati."
Ferguson, a cousin of former Ohio State running back Maurice Clarett, chose UC based on the good feelings he received from the trainers and how they would oversee his recovery, because he liked the coaching staff and because he liked the idea of staying in Ohio.
"It was a big coup," Dantonio said. "It sends a message throughout the state of Ohio that we're going to be able to recruit on a big-time level."
Ferguson was first-team all-state at Youngstown Ursuline in 2001 and 2002 before transferring to Warren Harding for his senior year, where he was following in the footsteps of his cousin.
He ran for 4,982 yards and scored 60 touchdowns in his career.
"They compare us a lot," Ferguson said of Clarett. "I don't mind being compared to him. I just want to play as good as him."
At 6 feet 1, 223 pounds, Ferguson is a big, bruising back. But the UC coaching staff won't know how good he can be for at least a few weeks - and maybe longer - until he regains full strength in his leg.
"The biggest thing the trainers are saying to this point is that the fatigue factor is still there a little bit," running backs coach Tim Hinton said. "He's building that muscle fiber up. He's getting better every day and stronger every day. We're excited about seeing what potential is there. If he's half as good as what he looks like on high school film, we've got a good one."
Ferguson graduated from Warren Harding in December and participated in spring practice at UC. He wasn't able to do much physically but tried to learn the mental aspects of college football.
He said he still feels occasional soreness in the leg, but he's optimistic he'll be at full strength soon.
In a sense, he's starting over as a football player. He still has the reputation but must prove that the leg is OK and that he's the player he used to be.
Asked if he would be at UC if he hadn't been injured, Ferguson paused before answering.
"I can't really say," he said. "But I'm here and I'm excited about it. I'm happy to be here."
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