Ferguson, Young headline inexperienced backfield for Illini football

Running backs Donovonn Young and Josh Ferguson will share more than just a friendship next season. They will likely share the backfield for Illini football.

“Me and Josh are actually best friends, so we just push each other,” Young said. “In the end, we’re all teammates and we just want the team to succeed. If Josh does good, that’s great. If I do good, that’s great because it’s gonna help the team. I’m not looking at it as ‘me against him’.”

Both “Ferguson and Young”:https://www.dailyillini.com/index.php/article/2011/09/freshman_halfback_duo_hits_ground_running_in_1st_game are coming off their first seasons at Illinois. Young finished with 87 carries for 451 yards and six touchdowns, but struggled with ball security at times. Ferguson redshirted the 2011-12 season after a hamstring injury derailed his freshman campaign.

While Ferguson is healthy now, Young re-fractured his foot, an injury originally suffered in high school, when he made a hard cut during winter workouts.

“Things happen, you know, and you gotta bounce back from them,” Young said. “I’m taking mental reps. … I make sure I go over and watch carefully, watch what’s going on and then in the film room, we take care of what I need to know.”

Head coach Tim Beckman said Ferguson is currently the No. 1 running back because Young’s injury kept him off the field until last week.

“But what Donovonn showed me is that he’s very capable,” Beckman said. “I think Josh is a little bit more of a slash, get him the ball on the perimeter. Donovonn gets downhill and runs hard. He’s got great pad level, he’s bigger. Both of them have shown that they can be very, very successful against a pretty good defense.”

The absence of Young has given Ferguson a chance to step up as the featured back this spring.

“It’s been a great experience,” Ferguson said. “Putting some needed pressure on me to learn the new pays, finish the practice strong.”

Junior quarterback “Nathan Scheelhaase”:https://www.dailyillini.com/index.php/article/2012/04/scheelhaase_otoole_split_firstteam_reps_in_spring_practices said the spread offense the Illini will run should tailor to Ferguson’s skills.

“This offense, it puts you in space,” Scheelhaase said. “That’s a guy, for any defense, they don’t want to see him one-on-one with anybody just because of what he can do with the ball in his hands.”

The Illini do not have any junior or senior running backs on the roster, and with 87 career carries, Young is the most experienced of the bunch that includes three sophomores, two redshirt freshmen and “three incoming freshmen”:https://www.dailyillini.com/index.php/article/2012/02/beckman_adds_19_players_to_football_roster_in_first_recruiting_class.

“That will be a great opportunity to step up ourselves,” Ferguson said. “Don (Young) played a lot last year, so he has that experience. I know we’ve got a few guys coming in. Overall, we will be young, but I think we’ll be all right.”

Beckman said Young has been impressive in the limited reps he’s received since last week, adding that he has bulked up in offseason workouts.

“It was his first year being in the weight room with us,” Beckman said. “As they get stronger and faster, those types of things help the body, no question, as a running back.”

Young said he currently weighs in at 222 pounds — seven pounds heavier than last season.

“I don’t want to get the Jason Ford syndrome, so I started eating right,” Young said with a laugh.

Ferguson and Young were drafted to different teams and will be on opposite sidelines for the upcoming Orange and Blue spring game, but Beckman said Illini fans shouldn’t be surprised to see them on the field together come fall.

“Get your playmakers on the field,” he said. “If they’re two of your playmakers, get them on the field.”