Tyler Ferguson may very well be Penn State’s starting quarterback by the end of the summer. But even in this era of instant recruiting updates, little is known about him as a player and as a person.
The California native transferred to Penn State in January after one year in the junior college ranks at College of the Sequoias. He edged out Steven Bench during spring practice and will now battle top recruit Christian Hackenberg for the job when preseason camp opens in the summer.
Beyond that? We’ll have to ask his roommate from his first semester on campus.
“He’s a great guy,” said the Wyoming Valley’s own Eugene Lewis. “He’s actually very laid back. He talks to me and we have great conversations. I really enjoyed being his roommate and I really think he’s a good guy who’s going to be very successful.”
Lewis, who has been lauded by coach Bill O’Brien for his positive attitude, got to help both of the Nittany Lions’ long-distance quarterbacks acclimate to life in Pennsylvania.
The promising wide receiver roomed with Bench, who arrived from south Georgia, in the fall semester. For the spring semester, Lewis lived with Ferguson, who grew up even farther away in Bakersfield, Calif.
But the personalities of the two quarterbacks weren’t as similar as their stats from spring ball.
Where Bench was naturally talkative and outgoing, Ferguson took some time to open up.
“When he came in, he didn’t really talk too much,” Lewis said. “He was just trying to get comfortable with everything. He’s far from home.
“I did everything I could to make him feel welcome and feel good about where he’s at. I think we did a good job with it.”
The second-year coach reiterated this week that Ferguson has adapted as well as could be expected for someone who accepted a late scholarship offer without having set foot in Happy Valley.
“When you’re 19 years old and you’ve never seen Penn State before, and you decide to throw your stuff in a suitcase and you decide to come out to Penn State, that takes something,” O’Brien said. “That’s what Tyler did. So when he first got to Penn State, you go from College of the Sequoias to Beaver Stadium. Most of us probably would be a bit unnerved by that.
“I think he was quiet when he first got here. With knowledge comes power, so he became more familiar with what we were doing, more familiar with the school. And I think he’s a lot more comfortable now than he was four months ago.”
Evidently so. Ferguson was settled well enough that O’Brien picked him to get more reps with the first-team offense this summer. That led to Bench’s decision to transfer.
Aside from improving in practices, Lewis said he noticed a change in Ferguson off the field by semester’s end.
“Yeah, definitely. He started talking, he started hanging out with guys,” Lewis said. “We went out to eat a couple times. We just want to have a good bond with each other.”
With Bench’s departure, Ferguson has a slight edge to be the man under center when the Lions open against Syracuse on Aug. 31.
As players gradually leave home to return to State College, Ferguson will be able to informally get together with teammates and work on routes and timing in O’Brien’s complex offense. Hackenberg will arrive at the end of June.
“As of right now, Tyler’s the only one here right now,” Lewis said. “So we do everything we can with him. When Christian comes in, they’ll both be battling for the spot, and that’s the decision that Coach O’Brien will make.”
O’Brien said this week on his Coaches Caravan tour that he would like to decide on a starting quarterback after about two weeks of camp. That would allow either Ferguson or Hackenberg to have another two weeks getting the bulk of the work with the first-team offense to better prepare for the opener.
If Ferguson does win the job, it would continue a stunning rise on Penn State’s radar.
Ferguson, of course, was well known to the coaching staff when they scoured the JUCO ranks last fall after Paul Jones left the team. But the scholarship offer for that spot originally went to Jake Waters of Iowa Western, who ultimately picked Kansas State over the Lions in December.
The very next day, that offer then went to Ferguson, who had been set to sign with Houston.
That plan changed with a phone call from Penn State.
It was already going to be difficult for Ferguson to move his life to the other end of the country and integrate there as a player, as a student and as a person.
But he also had the added burden of integrating with a team that had developed an exceptional bond in the past year-plus, keeping the program alive through scandal and sanctions.
“Yeah, that’s tough,” O’Brien said. “But our team — that’s one thing that’s interesting about our team as we sit here right now — I don’t think our team is real cliquey. I think our team is a team right now, which is good.
“Now I don’t know if that will translate to a bunch of wins. I’m just saying that I like the feeling of our team right now, the chemistry of our team. I think they accepted (Tyler) very well.”