For the past two years, James Ferguson has been the reliable right tackle for the St. John's Prep football team. That sensational offensive line opened holes for tailback Tyler Coppola and the rest of the team's running backs to make the Eagles ground game go.

Next year, he'll be an offensive lineman at Bates College in Maine.

From the start, the Bates coaching staff came after Ferguson and he was accepted into the school early decision.

"That was a big factor in my decision," said the Newbury resident who also plans to indulge in another passion, skiing, during his college years in Maine. "I knew I wanted to play at a NESCAC school, and St. John's has pumped out a lot of NESCAC football players. Tufts, Bowdoin and Kenyon College in Ohio were also interested. I decided Kenyon was too far away, and I really liked the coaches at Bates. They were really intent about me visiting, and I went up with Nate Cyr (a Prep captain who is going to Trinity) in October for an overnight visit. The kids on the team were cool and I fit right in with them.

"Kevin Davis, who was a year ahead of me at St. John's, plays for Bates. He's a receiver who got some playing time last season. There are quite a few kids from the North Shore there, and I haven't heard anything bad about the school from anybody I talked to. I know Mike Tomaino from Gloucester (a football captain at GHS) is going to Bates and will be in my class next year."

Ferguson, who has good size at 6-foot-3 and 275 pounds, will see action on the offensive side of the ball for the Bobcats.

"They told me they were thinking somewhere on the offensive line, but I'm not sure if it will be at tackle," said Ferguson. "I have decent size for Division 3 ball and should be able to help out somewhere.

"I went back up there to see Bates play Hamilton College on their new field and they pulled out a win. There have been a lot of down years, but things are heading in the right direction for the program now.

Owner of a 4.07 grade point average, Ferguson also liked the idea of attending a liberal arts school (he's unsure of what he'll major in as of now). Bates is putting a good financial aid package together for him.

He also played lacrosse as a freshman and sophomore before switching to rugby.

"Andrew Dieselman was after me and Cyr to go out for rugby, so we both did last year and loved it," said Ferguson. "That's something I'll miss in college because right now there's no spring team (at Bates), but I was talking to a freshman from Marshfield we had played against. He really wants to get something going with rugby in the spring so maybe I'll still be able to play."

Ferguson said he was accepted at Governor's Academy, Pingree and the St. John's Prep prior to picking a high school. "I made the right choice going to St. John's," he said.

"Just to be with that offensive line was special; all seniors and all friends. Going to the Super Bowl (last month) was a great way to finish our high school careers."

Other local players on the Bobcats last season include junior linebacker Will Taft of South Hamilton, who played for Pingree; senior linebacker Mike DiPrisco of Marblehead, senior defensive lineman Dan Santorella of Danvers, junior wide receiver John Squires of Swampscott (via Philips Exeter) and sophomore running back Pat George of Gloucester, who played at Pingree.

The other victory for the Bobcats this past season was a big one; they beat Tufts on the road, 21-20, for their first win over the Jumbos since 1985. Squires had two touchdowns in the triumph while George ran for the other score.

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Jean DePlacido is a part-time writer and columnist for The Salem News. Contact her at jmdeplacido@aol.com.

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