Early on the morning of April 25, a series of tornadoes tore through the town of Ruston, La., home of Louisiana Tech University. Soon-to-be Baltimore Ravens defensive lineman Jaylon Ferguson had been preparing for the biggest moment of his life — the NFL Draft — when the storms reached Ruston, where he had been waiting with his family.
As the city spent the weekend trying to recover from the storms that leveled homes and businesses and claimed two lives, Ferguson put his NFL Draft plans on hold to help the community pick up the pieces left behind.
“These are the same people that took me in and supported me for the last five years,” Ferguson told Glenn Clark Radio April 30. “One of the best things I’ve seen about everything was the immediate response of the community; everybody was out immediately helping each other out. I’m grateful and appreciative of that, and I just want to be part of the effort.”
The relief effort not only helped Ferguson take his mind off the suspense of the draft’s first few rounds; it offered him a bit of perspective as well.
“It’s really a humbling experience because I’m waiting on the call of a lifetime, but at the same time somebody is waking up and their house is gone,” Ferguson said.
Shifts in perspective are something Ferguson has experienced with regularity in recent years. Ferguson has a 17-month-old son, and starting a family has changed the way he views his place in the game of football.
“It gives everything a sense of purpose, everything you do,” he said. “It’s OK to say, ‘I’m doing it for me. I’m doing it for the money.’ But it’s a whole different level when you’re doing it for your family.”
Having an impressionable son also forced Ferguson to address what some NFL teams may have viewed as a red flag in his profile: character issues, largely stemming from a battery charge from a fight during his freshman year at Louisiana Tech. In fact, per league policy, Ferguson’s invitation to this year’s NFL Scouting Combine was rescinded due to the “conviction of a felony or misdemeanor involving violence.”
For Ferguson, the league’s decision was a reminder of the lasting nature of past mistakes. Now that he has a young son, he knows that he has to take the responsibility of being a role model more seriously.
“Everything I do is a direct reflection [my son],” he said. “And it’s really brought it to light, like, ‘This is your life, this is your son. This is what your son is going to see when he gets older.’ And it started to make me realize: watch yourself. Watch how you treat people. It’s time for you to grow up.”
Regarded by some as a first-round talent, Ferguson slipped to the third round, where the Ravens took him with the 85th pick. When Ferguson was told that he was drafted by Baltimore, he couldn’t help but feel that fate had to have been involved.
Earlier this offseason, the Ravens let longtime outside linebacker and sack artist Terrell Suggs leave as a free agent. In four years at Arizona State University, Suggs racked up 44 sacks, an FBS record that stood until last fall, when Ferguson broke it.
“It’s weird because I grew up watching Terrell Suggs and all the amazing stuff he’s doing on the football field; then I got older and broke his record, and now I’m almost stepping into his shoes in Baltimore,” Ferguson said.
Then he added: “Pretty big shoes to fill.”
If anybody in the draft has a shot at filling Suggs’ shoes on the Ravens’ defense, it may be the “Sack Daddy”, as Ferguson is known. His Louisiana Tech teammates gave him the nickname as he started to close in on Suggs’ record, and Ferguson was hesitant to embrace it.
“The first time I was like, ‘What? That’s not going to catch on,” Ferguson recalled.
However, he warmed up to it as his career wore on.
“When I started seeing the numbers and started creeping closer and closer to the record I thought, ‘OK, maybe it’s all right, a bunch of grown men calling me Sack Daddy. I’m cool with that.'”
Ravens fans will hope his quarterback-chasing skills will translate from Louisiana Tech to the NFL. There were questions regarding the level of competition he played against in college, but a glance at his 2018 game log features some notable performances against strong opponents: two sacks against Mississippi State, a strip sack against LSU, and 2.5 sacks in a Hawaii Bowl victory against Hawaii.
“I’ve put in twice the amount of work as anybody from any level of competition,” Ferguson said. “When I played up against bigger competition, the same thing happened.”
With his attitude, there is little reason to doubt he can step up his game once again against better competition.
“I like the challenge of having to step in [Suggs’] role and try to do what I can for it. Coming in to work, coming and doing everything that he did, just a little bit more,” Ferguson said.
To hear more from Ferguson, listen to the full interview here:
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Louisiana Tech Athletics