Tyler Ferguson has never been farther east than Houston, Texas, so one has to wonder how he'll react when he steps on campus at Penn State for the first time when he enrolls on Jan. 4, three days before he turns 19.
It's not only a country's length away from Ferguson's hometown of Bakersfield, Calif., but State College is a far cry in terms of climate from the balmy south-central region of the Golden State or arid Visalia, where he went to junior college.
"I understand it going to be a little colder than I'm used to," Ferguson said. "But it's nothing a couple of jackets and a pair of pants can't fix."
Tyler Ferguson rolls out to pass during his high school days in California.
That Ferguson is making the long journey to Penn State sight unseen is one of just several unusual sidelights to the 6-foot-4, 210-pound quarterback from Ridgeview High School by way of the College of the Sequoias who almost decided to play college basketball instead of football, then almost decided to go to Houston and feels just about at home in the kitchen as the weight room.
Ferguson said his decision had more to do with the people - like head coach Bill O'Brien and his chief recruiter, quarterbacks coach Charlie Fisher - than the locale.
"Just the relationship I built with Coach Fisher and Coach O'Brien. They have been talking to me and learning everything there is to know about me and letting me know everything there is to know about Penn State for four and a half to five months now," Ferguson said. "Coach Fisher came up to see me, and I really felt the most comfortable with him out of any coach from any school I've talked to.
"I feel like I've almost already been there."
Ferguson, who has three years of eligibility, will compete with another sophomore from a part of the country seldom associated with Penn State in the past, Georgia's Steven Bench, to be the Nittany Lions' starting quarterback next fall. Ferguson is the second-rated junior college quarterback prospect in the country according to 247Sports.com.
"He's a really bright kid. He graduated early from high school. He's athletic. He's six-five. He has a very quick release. He's got a lot of upside. He's got a strong arm and can make all the throws," said College of the Sequoias coach Robert Dougherty, once a standout quarterback with that college himself. "I think he'll flourish under Coach O'Brien in their system."
As a freshman with the Giants, Ferguson completed 55.6 percent of his passes for 2,614 yards and 22 touchdowns with 12 interceptions during a 4-6 season.
Ferguson probably is best regarded for his ability to throw deep accurately.
"My favorite pass to throw is probably a deep post, or something like it," Ferguson said. "I don't mind dinking and dunking it, but, if everything's working and you can just let it go, it's more fun to complete a 65-yard pass."
Ferguson's decision to join to Nittany Lions didn't just come up against the deadline. It crossed it. He already had made a verbal commitment to Houston after a Dec. 7 visit there when it appeared Penn State was in the driver's seat to land JUCO player of the year Jake Waters. When Waters instead picked Kansas State on Dec. 13, Penn State quickly offered Ferguson a scholarship. After about 36 hours of deliberation, he accepted the Lions' offer.
An issue with the NCAA clearinghouse and his credits made it impossible for Ferguson to arrange a visit to Penn State before actually signing a letter-of-intent to play for the Lions last week.
"That whole day, I don't think I was off the phone between Coach O'Brien, Coach Fisher, the NCAA, my dad and everyone," said Ferguson, who also had scholarship offers from Toledo and Florida Atlantic.
Ironically, it was almost by chance that Ferguson ended up playing college football at all. After a strong camp showing entering his senior year of high school, Ferguson picked right up by throwing for 1,211 yards and 10 TDs as Ridgeview opened the year with six wins.
However, in the sixth game, he broke his collarbone. He was out until the playoffs, when he came back to go 5-for-5 in limited action. The college attention, though, dried up in the meantime.
"Then I played in a California all-star game. I was probably the only kid uncommitted, and the COS coaches were there at the game," Ferguson said. "At first, I blew them off, not because they were a junior college, but because I was going DI. Then I realized, hey, no DI wants me. Then I thought I was going to play basketball in college, but the COS coaches came and talked to me again."
While Ferguson had excelled on the court - he says his favorite sports memory is a baseline drive dunk in a game - football always has taken priority. He began playing in third grade and was immediately put on a team with kids two and three years older. It took a little time to get his position down, though.
"I started to play receiver for about five minutes before the coaches came over and said, 'No, you're not a receiver,'" Ferguson said. "So I saw there were two kids at quarterback and I said, 'Well, I want to play there.' Since that day I've been a quarterback."
Ferguson said he follows college football religiously, so he knows what has been going on at Penn State even though it is three time zones from his home. When he's not playing, he makes a couple of trips per day to the gym - "three times a day, if my dad doesn't take my car keys," Ferguson said - but he likes to cut up food almost as much as opposing secondaries.
"I like cooking. I like to be as healthy as humanly possible, so I'm always looking new things to eat, new ways to cook that, new ways to put on weight," Ferguson said.
One thing is sure: With everything Ferguson has gone through, Penn State has landed itself a hungry quarterback.
"Even before I got hurt, I didn't have an offer. I was being talked to by a lot of people, but, for whatever reason, it seemed like schools were offering everybody else but me," Ferguson said. "It was always, 'We like you, but this,' or if it's not this, it's that. It just kept building on me and building on me and building on me. I work out and throw everyday with the mindset that 158 or how many schools in Division I all passed on me, so I'm going to go out and prove all of those schools wrong."