Brian Hales has seen his star quarterback complete countless passes, lead his team to dozens of victories and win two state championships. The head coach saw even more this season.
ESPN 300 quarterback Riley Ferguson from Matthews (N.C.) Butler had the kind of year most players would like to forget. He suffered a broken thumb this summer that forced him to miss much of the opening month of the season. Then the four-star quarterback suffered another injury to his throwing hand shortly after his return.
Hales isn't sure whether Ferguson knew he might have been lost for the season. The coach kept that to himself. He was, however, willing to share some of the qualities that define Ferguson, who is back and helping lead Butler High School deep into the playoffs.
Here are Hales' thoughts on Ferguson, who committed to Tennessee in June.
On what Ferguson has shown his coaches and teammates this year:
"I think the No. 1 thing that he has shown this year is his maturity. For a kid like that, as competitor, to break his thumb this summer at the Elite 11 camp and then to suffer the second injury to his throwing hand, there was a question whether or not we were going to get him back.
"A 17- or 18-year-old kid could go in the tank [and say], 'Man, I've got bad luck.' He was out here every day helping the other quarterbacks. He was running around spotting the ball for drills and doing everything he could and that we asked of him."
On Ferguson proving his toughness as a sophomore after a hard hit in one of his first games:
"He took a shot. He got nailed. I thought 'Well, he's done. We won't see him again.' I was already making plans without him in my mind [as the offensive coordinator]. Two plays later he was back in the game. I knew then he was going to be a tough kid."
On his development despite the missed playing time this season:
"I think he has gotten better. Last year, our leading receiver had 75 catches. Our leading receiver was his older brother [former senior Zach Ferguson]. I think there were a lot of times last year when he would get in trouble and would just look to find Zach. He leaned on him a lot last year. This year, not having him out there ... his progressions and reads have improved a great deal."
Ferguson is the highest-rated Tennessee commitment for the 2013 class. He is the No. 211 overall prospect in the nation, the sixth-best prospect in North Carolina and the No. 15 overall quarterback in the country.