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Marshall Ferguson ready for the spotlight at McMaster

August 22, 2013

By CLAUDE SCILLEY

HAMILTON — There may be people around the province wondering what will happen this year with the McMaster Marauders now that the quarterback who took them to back-to-back Vanier Cup games is gone.

You won’t find any of them here.

Marshall Ferguson is more than the understudy finally getting his big break. He’s more than an heir apparent, a hod carrier finally getting to build his own wall. Though, strictly speaking, he’s all of those things, don’t think of the Frontenac Secondary School grad just as Kyle Quinlan’s replacement.

Marshall Ferguson is the successor, and he’s ready not for Quinlan’s leadership mantle to be passed to him, but to try his own on for size.

Folks around the two-time defending league champion Marauders have no doubt he’ll wear it well.

“He’s had a fantastic camp,” McMaster coach Stefan Ptaszek said this week, but there’s way more to it than that.

Because the Marauders have been so successful in recent seasons — and put many opponents away early — even as the backup Ferguson has had ample opportunity to play. In the spring, he was a West team quarterback in the East-West all-star game for players entering their senior year. “It’s a pretty intense week,” Ptasek said. “It’s fast, fast bullets.”

Then came three weeks in the Canadian Football League training camp of the Calgary Stampeders under coach Dave Dickenson, the former pro quarterback.

“That’s as good an off-season as any quarterback could hope for,” Ptasek said.

“He’s as ready as you can be.”

Ptaszek has seen enough in the first week of training camp to confirm that.

“He’s been such a good soldier and such a quiet, lead-by-hard-work-and-example guy, to allow Kyle and the other captains to do their things,” Ptaszek said. “For him to be as vocal and demanding of his teammates and his coaches and just carry himself the way he has, abrasive is not the right word but he is demanding of everyone around him to get to where we need to be.

“It’s wonderful leadership and it’s fun to see.”

Ferguson says there’s a “different mindset” to approaching his first season as a starter, compared to other years.

“It’s natural to have a heightened sense of urgency,” he said. “I was always a guy at Frontenac that wanted to step up and lead and I’ve never shied away from that. There have been times here where I’ve wanted to say something or step up but it’s never really the place of the backup QB to jump in front of the whole team and say ‘Listen …’

“Knowing that I’m starting this year it’s easier to jump in and say what you’re thinking and say what you think the team needs to hear to be successful.”

Ferguson said he’s quite comfortable in that role.

“I’m a bit of a football nerd,” he said, “so I’ve read the Bill Walsh books on leadership and (Bill) Belichick’s do your job and ignore the noise. There are all these little mantras that are passed down through football that I’ve kind of absorbed and I try to live the game in that way. So, when you’re stuck out here with 90 guys who want you to say something, it’s pretty easy to know what direction to take them and try to lead them toward being successful.”

Don’t let the fact that it’s taken Ferguson four years to become an intercollegiate starter fool you. There’s much more to him than personality, leadership and potential.

In McMaster’s Vanier Cup season of 2011, Quinlan, who that year would win the Hec Crighton trophy as the outstanding player in the land, was suspended for three games early in the season. Ferguson, at the time a relatively untested sophomore, won them all.

Last year Ferguson completed 70.4 per cent of his passes. Only one quarterback in Canada who threw the ball more than 50 times was more accurate. He’s a lifetime .679 completion percentage passer, with 13 touchdowns. In his entire career — 193 attempts — Ferguson has thrown just two interceptions.

As McMaster prepares to open its Ontario University Athletics season Sunday at home against Ottawa, Ferguson says he’s absolutely ready to go.

“It’s been a good summer,” he said. “Going to Calgary was awesome. Being there changed my perspective on what it takes to be successful, because they don’t talk about it a lot there, what you need to do on a daily basis. Everybody just shows it.

“That changed my idea of what you need to do on a daily basis and the focus you need to have.”

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