December 25, 2006

NOT JUST ANOTHER BRICK:

Ferguson lets family, heart & soul be his guide (Lisa Olson, 12/25/06, NY Daily News)

"Don't worry if you aren't sure where life will take you," [D'Brickashaw Ferguson] tells the crowd of football players, their parents, coaches and cheerleaders. "The journey will take you somewhere positive as long as you make the right choices."

There are times when Ferguson sounds like such an old soul. It's as if his brain is cluttered with so much wisdom, so many positive thoughts, he sometimes needs to pause before fully completing a sentence. At 23, and graced with the talent and the luck to be working not more than a few miles from where he spent his childhood, Ferguson is nearly a man in full. He has perfected the comical clichés Eric Mangini demands of his players, but ask Ferguson who he is once he sheds the pads and his answer is void of pretense.

Does he consider himself a football player before all else? A few minutes remain before Ferguson and the rest of the Jets must report for practice, on the day after his speech at Syosset High on Long Island. He takes a long moment to consider the question, because it is something he has pondered, and will for the rest of his life.

Who is he? Is he the Jets' first-round draft pick (fourth overall) who signed a contract worth some $17 million and is expected to anchor the left side of the line for the next decade? The lithe tackle who jokingly refers to himself as "a beast" and the "bodyguard" of quarterback Chad Pennington? The kid who had major heart surgery in third grade, and filled the next few years not with sports but civic activism? The college student who earned a degree in religious studies in just 3-1/2 years, who now engages his teammates in existential conversations that cause their heads to spin?

"When I leave here, I feel that when people ask me what I do, I don't need to say I'm a football player. That's what I do and some might even say I do it well, but there's so much more I want to be," he says. "Early on, I never expected this, never wanted it. It was just a matter of taking an opportunity and doing my best. I'd rather not concentrate on long-term goals and instead focus on where today might lead."

The holidays are a fine time to reflect on the benefits of a strong family foundation. It matters, on Christmas Day and every other. Ferguson, the man and the athlete, was a high school All-American at Freeport High on Long Island, in the thick of Jets territory, but he hasn't much interest in revisiting those glory years.

Edwin and Rhunette didn't raise their two sons - Edwin Jr. is working on his doctorate - to brag about all they've done. No, it's what they can do that matters, who they should be and how they should give back, and with D'Brickashaw it began when his parents christened him with a name plucked from "The Thorn Birds," a popular novel and subsequent TV miniseries. Father Ralph de Bricassart, the saga's central character, struggled between his religion and his love for a girl named Meggie Cleary, a human conflict Edwin found fascinating. The Fergusons changed the name slightly, to make their son even more unique, and it was thus no mere happenstance when years later the boy grew to be fascinated by world religions.

D'Brickashaw chose Christianity and Islam as the two he would study at the University of Virginia, where he also happened to be a pretty fine, if underweight, lineman, so long and nimble, with a wing span six inches inches greater than his 6-6 height and feet that danced like a cobbler's puppet.

"I was more interested in the philosophy behind the two cultures," he says. "Christianity is what I was reared on. Islam, I wanted to know more about it than what we were reading or hearing in the media. We have so many similarities and I wanted to understand them. I wasn't planning to be a priest or go to the seminary. I just think, as someone who occupies space on this planet, it's our obligation to ask why we're here and for what purpose.

"There's got to be more to life," he says, and he takes another long pause before continuing, "It's got to be more than just making a lot of money or being famous or being successful in your chosen field."

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 25, 2006 10:54 AM
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