STARKVILLE — Whenever he feels he needs to, Starkville High School offensive lineman Derwin Ferguson visits East Sand Creek Missionary Baptist Church. He goes to the far reaches of Starkville to share an experience or to talk through something.
When he makes the trip, he goes to the cemetery to talk to his mother and father.
“I barely talk to a lot of people about this,” Ferguson told The Dispatch. “I feel like I need to speak more about it because it’s a lot that I can at least get off my chest. I have some things on my chest that I need to get out. I hold it in because I feel like no one would care or I don’t want people feeling sorry for myself at the same time.”
Ferguson, a 5-foot-8, 236-pounder, is a senior starter on a team that is a favorites to win the Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA) Class 6A State championship. He is revered as a mature presence, as a constant smiling face on a team that will try to avenge a loss to Pearl in the 2017 Class 6A State title game. Starkville (5-0, 1-0 region) is off to a good start toward realizing that goal. It will try to take an important step at 7 p.m. Friday when it visits Northwest Rankin (4-1) for a Region 2 game.
Ferguson has persevered after losing his mother when he was 6 years old and his father when he as 12. He doesn’t share his story much — head coach Chris Jones and offensive line coach William Stewart know little more than the fact that both of Ferguson’s parents are dead — but Ferguson wants it to be known now.
Through football and the help of aunt Dranika Ferguson, who took him in after his father’s death, Derwin has made himself into a productive young citizen.
“I’m trying to use them as a motivation instead of a crutch,” Ferguson said. “Keep moving along, keep grinding, trying to make something of myself.”
Derwin’s mother, Shelia Hubburd, died of breast cancer. When the diagnosis came, she was given 12 weeks to live. He admits now he was “a momma’s baby.” Her death sent his life into a chaos in more ways than one.
Ferguson’s father, Derwin, tried his best to make ends meet for his four kids and Hubburd’s five. Even with the family splitting at times, Ferguson followed his father as he moved from Starkville to Meridian and back to Starkville before settling in Jackson. For once, their lives had stability — even if the younger Derwin Ferguson was still haunted by his past.
“When I first lost my mother, the first couple of months were hard because I was having dreams, then the times when my dad would date other women and I would miss my mom,” he said. “It really hurt, and it still kind of does now. He did great things for us, and I thank him for that.”
Then his father had trouble maintaining a job due to heart issues before he decided to have surgery to fix it. He never woke up from the anesthesia. He was in a coma for a few days prior to his death.
The death of his father came as his life was coming together. His father was coaching him in youth football and they had started to go to church together after his mother’s death. After his death, things with his stepmother went awry and, once again, the siblings split an Derwin Ferguson had to find a home.
“It really started going downhill when my daddy passed. I started wondering why, why me,” he said. “I’m thinking, ‘What can I do now, who can I trust?’ That same love isn’t there as you had with your mother and father. There’s still some times I think about it and just wish I can go back in time.
“I was more worried than grieving. Man, what am I going to do? It’s going to feel different. Everybody else has their mother and father and I won’t have anybody like that.”
Derwin found that home with his aunt, Dranika. She has done everything she can to give him a home with her children in Starkville, even if Derwin felt compelled to ask for food and drink from the refrigerator as opposed to taking it as one would in their home. Dranika has helped Derwin through his grief and tried to fill in for what’s missing in his life.
Football has filled the gaps.
“After my father died, I tried to not do anything. I tried to use it as an excuse and make people feel sorry for me,” Ferguson said. “I had to learn in the real world they’re not going to care. I’m glad I didn’t have to learn the hard way. I’m glad I listened to my auntie more. I could’ve kept doing it, finding ways to get by, and in the real world, it’s not going to work.
“Football’s the main reason to keep me going, to have a purpose.”
Jones thinks Ferguson has the ability to play college football. He hopes schools will give Ferguson a chance despite his height.
Regardless of what happens in football, Ferguson has a promising future. He has matured from the time he broke down in school because he missed his parents. He also remembers a dream in which he and a sister searched for their father in what he felt like was a big game of Clue.
Ferguson’s parents still weigh on his thoughts at night. He went to their graves to talk to them on the first day of his senior year. Their memory will help him make it to graduation day.
“They are on my mind when I’m going through the motions,” Derwin Ferguson said. “When we’re running and it becomes a mental game, I enter that phase, ‘Do it for your parents. Don’t prove people right that you can’t do anything because you don’t have your parents.’ ”
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter @Brett_Hudson