ASSOCIATED PRESS FILE / NOVEMBER 2004
Jason Ferguson's career as a Hawaii receiver ended in his first game as a starter.
Still part of the team
1 career was launched as another ended
STORY SUMMARY »
A knee injury two years ago deprived Jason Ferguson of his opportunity to prove himself as a Division I football player.
The twist of fate couldn't steal away his passion for the game as he watched his Hawaii teammates reach unprecedented heights this season.
"If you see me on the sidelines, I'm a maniac," the former Warrior slotback said. "The emotions I watch the game with are the same emotions I played with."
Ferguson had earned a starting job heading into the 2005 campaign, but the injury suffered on the season's opening kickoff ended his career. Still, he remained around the program even after calling off his comeback attempt last summer, and plans on being in New Orleans when the Warriors face Georgia in the Sugar Bowl.
Thoughts of what could have been are unavoidable for Ferguson, who holds the distinction of christening the career of record-setting quarterback Colt Brennan by hauling in the Heisman finalist's first Division I pass back in 2005.
But he's relished the Warriors' ascent to the Western Athletic Conference championship and a BCS berth this season, and hopes to remain involved in the game as a coach.
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It was one seemingly innocuous pass that heralded the launch of a spectacular career while signaling the premature end of another.
In the early afternoon of Sept. 3, 2005, Colt Brennan jogged from the Hawaii sideline to the Warrior huddle for the first time with top-ranked USC waiting across the line of scrimmage.
Jason Ferguson -- a 5-foot-5 sophomore slotback who had dismissed questions about his size to earn a starting job -- joined Brennan in that group of 11, hoping the ache in his knee might just be a momentary annoyance.
Facing first and 20 at the Warriors' 21, Brennan embarked on his historic three-year run as Hawaii's quarterback by flinging a 6-yard pass to Ferguson on his first Division I snap.
Shortly after Brennan's introduction, Ferguson would make his farewell.
The anterior cruciate ligament in Ferguson's knee had actually given way as he returned the season's opening kickoff moments before he caught that pass from Brennan. He stuck it out for a few more plays but knew he was playing on a bad wheel.
"It was like three or four plays after I caught the pass I went to make a move off the line and it was just, 'Oh no. There's no way I could do this,' " Ferguson recalled.
"I had my whole family there, I was trying to stick it out as long as possible. God just put me in a choke hold and carried me off the field."
While Brennan would go on to a brilliant career culminating with a trip to the Heisman Trophy presentation and a berth in the Sugar Bowl, when Ferguson took his pads off that afternoon in 2005, it would be the last time.
Though the injury effectively ended Ferguson's career, he remained a regular presence around the program and was around to savor UH's run to the Western Athletic Conference title and BCS berth this season.
"As far as being a part of this team, it's amazing. I wouldn't trade it for the world," Ferguson said. "The relationships I have with these guys kept me involved."
He could often be seen prowling the Aloha Stadium sideline this fall -- eye-black and all -- poised to offer encouragement or advice to his teammates.
But as exhilarating as the team's triumphs were, those nights were also some of the most agonizing.
"They just looked like they were having so much fun," Ferguson said. "It's just so hard to stomach, but at the same time, this doesn't happen to everybody.
"I believe certain people go through things because God puts that on them. I'm handling it. I'm dealing with it. It's not the end of the world. Sometimes it feels like it is, but it isn't.
"At the end of the day, though, I wish I could have showed y'all ... "
Ferguson -- also an aspiring rapper working to establish himself in the music industry -- concedes being chained to the sideline was tough to bear. But the experience also reaffirmed the game's place in his world.
"Being on the sideline not only gave me the opportunity to get back into football, but it put in perspective what I want to do with my life," he said. "I have to be involved in either music or football. The emotion I have and the desire I have are still there. I'm too passionate about it."
That passion was evident when Ferguson joined the UH program out of Fairfax High School in Los Angeles as he drew comparisons to Chad Owens, another shifty, though relatively diminutive, slotback. Owens had just finished his career as UH's all-time leader in total yardage.
Over the summer of 2005, Ferguson was a mainstay at UH's voluntary workouts and earned a starting job in fall camp. But with one awkward twist, the direction of his career changed.
Even as he pushed himself for close to two years to work back into playing shape, he sensed he had played his last down and ended his comeback bid this summer.
"Realistically, I can't imagine my knee getting hit again," he said. "I had to really come to grips with it. I had known for a while, I was just in denial. But I didn't want to be selfish any longer. Somebody else out there could make a contribution to the team. It just was time."
Brennan, meanwhile, steadily built one of the most prolific passing careers in NCAA history.
There would be 1,092 completions to follow that first one to Ferguson, 131 going for touchdowns to set the NCAA record.
On throw No. 1,546 of his career, Brennan tossed the 5-yard touchdown pass to Ryan Grice-Mullins -- the player who replaced Ferguson in the lineup -- that lifted Hawaii to a 35-28 win over Washington to cap a perfect regular season.
After his playing career ended, Ferguson stayed in school, and he is on track to graduate this spring with a degree in sociology. He is hoping to continue his association with the program as a graduate assistant with a career in coaching in mind.
Before that, though, there's the matter of UH's game with Georgia on Jan. 1, and Ferguson plans to be at the Superdome in New Orleans for the Sugar Bowl.
"I wouldn't want to miss this for nothin'. This is THE game," he said. "We're going to go down there and go to work. I have 1,000 percent confidence in these boys."