Running back Josh Ferguson leads Illinois in all-purpose yardage for the second straight season. Makes sense, since Ferguson, a third-year sophomore from Naperville, Ill., prides himself of his all-purpose traits. A year ago, he did it all -- rushing, receiving and returning kicks. This season, Ferguson has dropped the kick returns.
The Illini offense, under first-year coordinator Bill Cubit, is averaging 37 points per game, more than double its figure from a year ago. Ferguson ranks as Illinois’ second-leading rusher. He’s averaging 26.4 yards per reception to lead the team, and he ranks No. 1 among all FBS running backs in receiving yardage.
Ferguson and the 2-1 Illini host Miami of Ohio on Saturday at noon ET before opening Big Ten play next week at Nebraska.
ESPN.com caught up with Ferguson this week.
How do you feel about playing in Bill Cubit’s offense?
Personally, I love the offense. I’m sure that a lot of the guys here would say the same thing. He’s a great coach, and we’re having a lot of fun.
What changes have you seen this year in senior quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase?
He hasn’t shown it as much this year, but the kid can run. He can pass. He’s a great leader. He’s got a lot of intangibles you need from that position.
Your 185 receiving yards through three games lead all FBS running backs. Did you know that?
I did not know that. I think it’s pretty cool. It’s a credit to guys I play with and the kind of offense that we run.
How do you assess your play as a receiver?
It’s going well. For me, I just needed to work on shorter, quicker routes, getting out there against in places where our coaches like certain matchups.
Are the Illinois receivers jealous of you?
Nah, they’re good guys. They want what’s best for the team. We’ve got a lot of hard workers at that position.
You returned 19 kickoffs for 344 yards a year ago. Why not this year?
I’m not too sure, but I want to do whatever the coaches want me to do.
What does it mean to you to be considered an all-purpose back?
As much as possible, I want to be the type of runner who can do a lot out of the backfield. I want to be that versatile kind of guy.
You missed the Ohio State game last year because of injury and 10 games in 2011, leading to a medical redshirt waiver. What are you doing this year to stay healthy?
I train a little bit harder during the week. I’ve gained a lot of weight these last couple years. I feel great.
Do you focus on taking care of your body when you’re not in football mode?
Right, that’s experience. Being a young guy, you don’t really see what your body needs. That’s been a focus for me this year.
What do you eat now that you didn’t two years ago?
Honestly, I just eat more vegetables and more protein and try to take care of my body.
How do you get away from the game?
Homework. I’m a kinesiology major, so I’ve got a lot of reading. Outside of that, I love music. I used to played the tenor saxophone. I like jazz. I like all types of music.
What do you like to do back home in Chicago?
Probably just home with the family. I’m pretty much on campus all year round, so when I do get back home, I like to hang out with my brothers.