Photo by Derrick Mahone
Jonesboro senior defensive backs Taurean Ferguson (left) and Cameron Sutton signed with rival schools on Wednesday. Ferguson signed with Vanderbilt while Sutton will play for Tennessee.
JONESBORO — The Tennessee-Vanderbilt instate football rivalry has gotten rather intense lately. And for two Jonesboro athletes, it’s about to get downright personal.
Defensive backs Cameron Sutton, signing with Tennessee, and Taurean Ferguson, signing with Vanderbilt, have been playing football together, if not on opposing teams, since elementary school.
And that doesn’t look like it will change any time soon with each signing letters of intent Wednesday to play football at the state’s two SEC programs.
“I’m sure we’ll be mugging each other, and competing hard out there when that game comes,” Ferguson said. “But after the game is over, we’ll come together and be like family again.”
Vanderbilt is considered by many to be a program on the rise. Although Tennessee has an all-time record of 73-29-5 against the Commodores, a 27-21 overtime loss to the Volunteers in 2011, followed by a 41-18 blowout win in 2012 has done much to solidify coach James Franklin’s impact in his two years at the program.
“What (Vanderbilt coach) James Franklin is doing great things up there,” Ferguson said. “He’s just a different, wild guy. But someone who treats you like family. You can come up there and talk to him and the other coaches about anything. It’s just a real comfortable atmosphere.”
That’s why Ferguson committed to the Commodores last April and never wavered, despite overtures from Cinicnnati, Akron, Wake Forest and Ole Miss. The Rebels, who signed the nation’s top recruit in Grayson’s Robert Nkemdiche, had the No. 5 recruiting class in the country, according to several recruiting services.
Vanderbilt’s coup wasn’t shabby, however. The 5-foot-9 speedster helped bolster Vandy’s 2013 recruiting class to top 20 status. Ferguson, a Georgia Sports Writer’s Association All-State Honorable Mention selection will not only bring speed to Vanderbilt’s table, but a determination to improve as well.
“I’m just going to go back and get back to working hard, getting stronger and bigger,” Ferguson said. “I’m a small corner, but I’m going to show that I can play with the big boys.”
Sutton, recruited by Tennessee also as a corner, received a strong last-minute push from Auburn after the firing of former Vols coach Derek Dooley. But incoming coach Butch Jones, coming over from Cinncinati, had already built a relationship with Sutton before being hired at Tennessee.
And that familiarity, Sutton said, was what helped him remain Knoxville bound.
“It helped that I already knew coach Jones from when he was trying to recruit me at Cincy,” Sutton said. “So a lot of that staff came down with him to Tennessee, so it all just kind of fell in place.”
Sutton and Ferguson not only excelled for Jonesboro on the football field, but in the classroom as well. Cardinals coach Tim Floyd lauded the two seniors for having 3.5 grade point averages. Ferguson plans on majoring in Engineering Technology at arguably the most academically prestigious schools in the SEC.
“These guys, I love both of them very much,” Floyd said. “I’m extremely proud of them both. I’m proud of how they overcame the challenges while here at Jonesboro, and we’re all going to watch them as they start showing what they can do on the next level.”
Both Sutton and Ferguson shed tears as they stood in front of coaches, teammates, friends and family to offer their appreciation. But the tears turned into a wry smile for Sutton as he visualized himself in the Volunteer Orange, looking across at his longtime friend and former teammate donning the Commodore black and gold.
“We’re going to look at each other, and want to get at it during the game,” Sutton said. “It’s just part of the game. But after that, the love just gets better with us. Nothing changes. It might even make our friendship better.”