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Impact Player: Natchez basketball player transforms into dynamic RB

Natchez High School’s John Ferguson reaches out to catch the ball during practice Tuesday. (Sam Gause | The Natchez Democrat)
Natchez High School’s John Ferguson reaches out to catch the ball during practice Tuesday. (Sam Gause | The Natchez Democrat)

NATCHEZ — Few football players will ever admit feelings of being timid on the football field.

Natchez running back John Ferguson has no problem admitting previous anxieties. That’s because Ferguson was simply a basketball player two years ago.

“Well, I thought I was a basketball player, but then I stopped growing,” said the former basketball center.

Ferguson found a new calling in 2012 when he embraced the gridiron. Though football wasn’t something Ferguson grew up desiring to play initially, the sport became his best, as the Natchez High School running back earned a starting position in 2013. By that time, Ferguson had shaken off previous fears.

“I wasn’t nervous the first time I started because I was running against the varsity team when I was in tenth grade,” Ferguson said. “That’s when I got used to it.”

Ferguson was surprised he saw the field so quickly, but as any coach in football will attest, speed is always a huge factor in the outcome of a football game. Natchez head coach Melvin Pete believes Ferguson has game-changing speed.

“When I saw him run a 4.4, I made him run it again and he recorded a 4.38,” Pete said. “I was like this guy is legitimately fast.”

Pete was sold on Ferguson’s athleticism, but he wanted to see how his senior running back would look in full pads against an opposing team. Pete got his answer Friday night in an encounter with Hazelhurst High School at Hazelhurt’s jamboree. The evaluation of Ferguson, which included a 25-yard touchdown run by Ferguson, had Pete feeling optimistic about his running back’s potential in 2014.

“He did very well,” said Pete, describing his running back’s performance in a 16-6 loss to Hazelhurst. “What many people don’t know is that we controlled the clock for most that we controlled the clock for most of the game with our running attack.”

Because he’s been playing the game for such a short amount of time, Ferguson said he has to improve his blocking and ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. His bread and butter, he said, is his speed.

“Just burn everybody,” Ferguson said. “That’s my style.”

No longer just a basketball player, Ferguson has found a new sport to appropriately devote his time to. From playing football “just because it was something to do” to becoming one of Natchez’s main offensive weapons, Ferguson is looking forward to his contribution in Pete’s newly installed offense.