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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.
The parents 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 individual."
D'Brickashaw 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.
The 6'6" 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 spare.
"I bee-lieeeeve I can fly," Ferguson crooned with a grin.
Russ Cellan, 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."
The 22-year-old 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."