The start of high school football practice was drawing near when Solon coach Kevin Miller received a text from one of his key players.
Senior two-way lineman Dalton Ferguson had a message for him.
“Before we even came out to the field for our first practice he texted me and he just said, ‘I’m ready to take it to the next level,’ ” Miller said of the 6-foot-4, 305-pound Ferguson. ” ‘I’m ready to be a dominant type of player.’
“And thus far he’s shown glimpses of that. But we’re working for consistency. There are times when he does phenomenal things, and that’s why I know he’s a Division I football player. I’ve coached some Division I football players, and I think he’s got some of those intangibles that you just can’t coach.”
Ferguson has started for Solon since he was a sophomore, earning all-district accolades last season. One of his goals, besides trying to help lead the Spartans to the Class 3A state title this season, is to earn a college scholarship in either football or track, where he excels in the shot put and discus.
Ferguson has heard mostly from Division III schools at this point for football, but he attended camps at Iowa and Iowa State this summer and now both schools are staying in touch with him.
“They both told me that they really like me,” Ferguson said. “They like my feet and my athleticism.”
So does Miller.
“Obviously, he’s a big kid who possesses great athleticism,” Miller said. “He has quick feet and he bends well and he’s strong. He’s just an athlete playing tackle.”
Miller thinks the only thing Ferguson doesn’t have at this point is a consistent motor and a mean streak that would allow him to dominate his competition.
“He’s getting there,” Miller said. “He’s such a nice kid. He is a tremendous young man. And we’re just trying to kind of get him to play at the level that we know he’s capable of.
“But he has shown glimpses that he has it in him. And he understands that’s something he needs to develop, that consistent motor.”
Ferguson isn’t bashful about his feelings for the Iowa Hawkeyes. He admires what Kirk Ferentz has done as coach and won’t let last season’s 4-8 record dampen his opinion.
“Every time I hear that ‘Back in Black’ (song before games) and I see the semi-truck coming in at the Hawkeye games and watching them smash the other team, I just get all pumped up,” Ferguson said.
Ferguson starts at right tackle on offense and at defensive tackle for the Spartans, who return more than 20 seniors from a team that finished 8-3 last season.
He prefers offense, partly because he feels more comfortable trying to execute a designed play. But mostly, he just likes battling in the trenches.
“I just like the contact and getting all banged up and getting those scars,” Ferguson said, “I like offense better because I know where I’m going. I know what I have to do. Defense is more like read and react. I’m getting there. But it’s a work in progress.”
Helping with that process is former Hawkeye and recently retired NFL defensive end Aaron Kampman, who joined the Solon coaching staff this summer.
“It’s crazy,” Ferguson said of working with Kampman on a regular basis. “He just talks to you. He’s like, ‘Hey, how are you doing?’ Just normal stuff.
“He just tells me to ice and make sure I heal my body and stuff.”
Ferguson also tries to model himself after current Iowa linebacker and former Spartan James Morris, who led Solon to 41 consecutive victories and to three consecutive Class 2A state titles from 2007-09.
“He means everything,” Ferguson said of Morris, who rushed for more than 6,646 yards in high school. “Coach always (refers) to him every single day and talks about how he did the little things right and worked his butt off and he just made the team better.”
In addition to becoming a more consistent player, Ferguson also wants to be a better leader as a senior.
“It’s definitely different because I’m used to looking up to people, but now people are looking up to me,” Ferguson said. “So I have to make sure I’m doing every single thing right, being a good role model and all that, and making sure people fit it in.”
Playing football is sort of a family affair for Ferguson with his father, Mike Ferguson, a member of the Solon coaching staff. Mike graduated from Cedar Rapids Washington in 1983 and also played football in high school, although not at the level his son has reached.
“You always hope your kids are better than you and he’s definitely gotten there,” Mike Ferguson said.
Mike shares Miller’s opinion that his son has what it takes to play major college football.
“I think he’s got a shot,” Mike Ferguson said. “He’s got the frame for it. He’s got the foot work. I think with him, it’s just deciding to keep that nasty switch on all the time when he’s on the field.”