FREDERICK, Md. - Frederick County in Maryland is quickly becoming a hotbed for some of the nation's top football prospects. The rural county in Western Maryland with a population of 225,000 now lays claim to three U.S. Army All-Americans.
On Monday afternoon, five-star defensive end J.R. "Ego" Ferguson, who started his high school career at St. John's Prospect Hall in Frederick, became the third local star to accept the All-American invitation. Ferguson joins fellow Marylanders and Frederick County residents Nick Forbes (Thomas Johnson) and Zach Zwinak (Linganore), who made their announcements last month.
Ferguson, who transferred to Hargrave Military Academy in Virginia earlier this year, returned to St. John's for the press conference. He spoke in front of a packed gymnasium with family, friends, former coaches, teachers, and members of the student body looking on.
"St. John's at Prospect Hall is where it all started and where I wanted it to all end." Ferguson said. "I started out at St. John's but made the decision to attended Hargrave Military Academy for my senior year to better prepare myself for college."
The decision seems to have paid off, according to Hargrave coach Robert Prunty.
"J.R. Ferguson is an outstanding player who will play in the NFL," Prunty said. "Hargrave has produced many good players and Ferguson ranks at the top of that list.
"Ferguson has a great motor, plays with a low pad level and has exceptional leverage," Prunty continued. "He was a joy to coach."
Ferguson played on the Hargrave Prep team that consisted of 37 scholarship players who already graduated from high school. His team finished 10-1 and Ferguson registered 67 solo tackles and 12 sacks.
"I had a pretty good year," Ferguson said. "I learned how to stay disciplined on the field and focus on my assignment instead of freelancing,"
Ferguson grew up in Miami, Fla., with his mother. But in the eighth grade he moved to Frederick to live with his father, Ego Ferguson Sr. For the last four years the senior Ferguson has watched his son blossom into a star and one of the highest-rated football prep players in the country. J.R. Ferguson's selection to the All-American Bowl represented a culmination of all his hard work and dedication.
"We are extremely grateful for the opportunity for him to participate in an all-star game of this magnitude," Ferguson Sr. said. "My hat goes off to the men and women who serve in the Army and make sacrifices for our freedom.
"When J.R. was a freshman I put him in private school at St. John's for the academic structure," Sr. explained. "Then I put him in Hargrave for that military structure that the Army gives."
Ferguson started as a basketball player at St. John's. He didn't play football until his sophomore season. But his talent was evident right away.
"Ferguson was very strong and super athletic," said former St. John's coach Jimmy Ward. "We played him at fullback, middle linebacker and tight end before moving him to strong-side defensive end."
In the spring of his junior year Ferguson was invited by his mentor, Theodore Roosevelt coach Daryl Tilgham, to attend a camp held in Washington, D.C. Ferguson dominated the one-on-one linemen drills. Soon after, recruiters from around the country started taking notice of the defensive end from Frederick.
After a Midwest college tour, Ferguson received over 50 scholarship offers, making him the most sought-after Maryland football prospect ever.
"I just want to be the best," Ferguson said. "I worked really hard for that five-star ranking. I didn't know how the guys at Hargrave were going to take me. But they welcomed me with open arms once they saw my work ethic.
"It's still all a dream," Ferguson continued. "I just try to stay grounded and put God first. I am also grateful for the men and women in the United States Military that put their necks on the line everyday so I can enjoy freedom."
Ferguson mentioned that he has not made a decision on his college choice. He said he will probably wait until the National Signing day.
"I am just taking my time and taking it all in," Ferguson said. "There are some really good colleges out there, and I am going to choose the one that is the best fit for me.
"But in the meantime I can't wait to play against the best in the nation in San Antonio, Texas, for the All-American Bowl."