Like millions of
Americans in late March 1983, Edwin Ferguson and his wife, Rhunette, were
engrossed in The Thorn Birds. The ABC miniseries, based on the best-selling
novel by Colleen McCullough, told the story of Ralph de Bricassart, an
ambitious Catholic priest in Australia torn between his devotion to the church
and his passion for the comely Meggie Cleary. So moved was Edwin by the
melodrama that he decided that if the couple, whose first son, Edwin Jr., was
born in 1980, had another boy, they'd name him after the protagonist in The
Thorn Birds. "The character was so reminiscent of the struggle we face even
now," says Edwin. "Wanting to do the things that are pleasing to the
Holy Father, and to achieve goals on Earth." � When Rhunette gave birth to
the couple's second son later that year, Edwin proposed a variation on the
priest's name: D'Brickashaw. Rhunette wasn't so sure. "To be honest,"
she says, chuckling, "I thought it was very unusual." She preferred the
more mundane Montgomery.
consulted Rhunette's mother, Evelyn McClendon, to settle the matter. After
careful consideration she sided with Dad. "The idea was to give him
something unique," Edwin says, "and from early on, he was a unique
Montgomery Ferguson has a degree in religious studies from Virginia and a black
belt in karate. He also played alto saxophone for his high school band and
occasionally performs solos at a Baptist church in Charlottesville. But those
aren't the qualities that will make him the first offensive lineman taken in
the NFL draft on April 29. What pro scouts love about Ferguson is an
athleticism that's uncommon at left tackle--his catlike quickness and
flexibility, his strong, angular upper body and power forward's long arms.
Ferguson is not the prototypical NFL tackle. He played his senior year for the
Cavaliers at 295 pounds, about 30 below the average weight at the position in
the league last season. But Ferguson excels in pass protection, with an
explosive first step, polished technique and football smarts. Seattle Seahawks
president Tim Ruskell says that Ferguson's 7'3" wingspan allows him to
anticipate, and then hinder, a defender's movements. "He'll be able to feel
if [a pass rusher] is getting ready to change directions," Ruskell says.
"That gives him a microsecond to adjust. We always look for [a large
wingspan] in our offensive linemen. That's a premium."
Just how expansive
is Ferguson's embrace? On a balmy March day at Disney's sports complex in
Orlando, where he was working out with training coach Tom Shaw to prepare for
the draft, Ferguson sauntered up to the blue Chevy Blazer belonging to Shaw's
assistant. Facing the SUV, Ferguson leaned over the hood and spread his arms
wide, and his fingers dangled over each side of the hood, with room to
bee-lieeeeve I can fly," Ferguson crooned with a grin.
Ferguson's coach at Freeport (N.Y.) High, and Ron Prince, his former offensive
line coach at Virginia, both attribute Ferguson's dexterity and footwork to his
extensive martial arts training (taekwondo as well as shodokan, a form of
karate). Ferguson doesn't dispute that but believes the main benefit he derived
was discipline, which fostered an obsessive attention to technique. Ferguson,
whose father is a logistics manager for 7-Eleven and a certified karate
instructor, says martial arts are about "learning how something is supposed
to be executed. If a punch is supposed to be a certain way, the fine detail can
yield a greater effect."
Still, some NFL
talent evaluators are concerned about Ferguson's size and how it will affect
his blocking. From 2000 to '05 the average weight of the 17 offensive tackles
chosen in the first round was 328 pounds, and some scouts believe Ferguson
needs to gain 10 to 20 pounds, without sacrificing mobility, before he'll
become a Pro Bowl tackle. Others, though, think Ferguson has a perfect blend of
speed and strength for the position. "You don't have to be Hulk Hogan and
knock the guy down on your run blocks," says one league scout, discussing
the left tackle spot. "It really is a position block, with sustained
strength. It's better to get into the defender artistically with technique than
to just barrel into him." To show that he could beef up, Ferguson came to
the Indianapolis Combine in February at 312 pounds. (Like many top prospects he
didn't perform drills in Indy.) The following month, at his pro day workout, he
still ran the 40 in an impressive 5.1 seconds.
"When he steps
on the scale, it's not an eye-opener, but he's going to be a great player,"
says Tennessee general manager Floyd Reese, whose club has the third overall
pick. "He's going to be in the league for 10 to 15 years. He's athletic and
very competitive, with good fundamentals and great feet." Adds Buffalo
Bills G.M. Marv Levy, who picks eighth, "Teams can get too hung up on a
prototype. If he's good, he's good. And [ Ferguson] is very good. You don't have
to fit into an exact mold all the time."
who's commonly called Brick by friends and family has never fit a traditional
football mold. For several years, in fact, it appeared he wouldn't be able to
play the sport at all. When Ferguson was born, doctors discovered that he had a
heart murmur. Because many heart murmurs resolve themselves on their own,
doctors decided to give this one time. The murmur persisted, and when
D'Brickashaw turned nine he underwent corrective open-heart surgery. Afterward
Rhunette, a nurse, prohibited her son from participating in contact sports.
D'Brickashaw spent his gym periods tutoring classmates in reading and math.
Even his afterschool taekwondo lessons were canceled. "I was a boy, so
naturally I wanted to play sports, be aggressive," says Ferguson, "but
I couldn't really do anything."