For many high school football players, signing a letter of intent to play at the collegiate level is the biggest accomplishment of their playing careers.
Willie Ferrell, an inside linebacker for Florida A&M University’s Developmental Research School, committed to play at the University of Mississippi “Ole Miss,” in Oxford, Miss., on Feb. 4, 2009.
“He’s a remarkable player, as well as a good student. It’s hard to replace a six-year starter,” said DRS’s head coach Ira Reynolds, as he shed a tear.
Reynolds expects Ferrell to excel in college and eventually the National Football League. “We all are looking forward to seeing him play on Saturdays and Sundays.”
Before committing to the Rebels, Ferrell received 39 Division 1 offers from schools, like Louisiana State University, University of Tennessee and Florida A&M University.
Ferrell is ranked 6th overall in the nation and 4th among inside linebackers in the nation. At 6’2 and 220 pounds, he is prepared to go to the next level.
With six years in the game and a state championship ring, Ferrell has had an amazing high school career. Ferrell is a 3-time pre-season All American, 3-time First Team All Big Bend and 3-time First Team All State.
He was the career recipient of the Career Achievement Award at DRS for breaking the school’s tackling record with 675 tackles.
“Leaving and wearing another team’s colors is the hardest thing to do. FAMU High is like a family after being here so long,” said Ferrell, who attended DRS from first through 12th grade.
He began his career playing varsity for the Baby Rattlers, while only in the seventh grade, alongside his older brother Jonathon Ferrell, who is now a safety for FAMU.
The siblings were born a-year and a half apart. Some would have expected both to continue playing together in college.
“I’m not upset that he chose not to attend FAMU, as long as he’s going to a school period, I’m happy with his decision,” said Jonathon Ferrell, 19, a sophomore psychology student from Tallahassee.
While only in the eighth grade, Ferrell received his first interest letter from the University of Georgia Bulldogs.
“When I received the letter, I thought it was sent to the wrong person. I felt like it was a start and I realized that I could be somebody in football,” Ferrell said. ” I know that when I got older, there was going to be a lot of hype over me.”
With dozens of nationally ranked colleges vying for his talent, FAMU was going to have a tough time recruiting him, even if his brother was a Rattler.
Leaving Tallahassee also means he will miss the people who have had a strong influence in his life.
“Personally, I just didn’t think playing for FAMU was what I wanted for myself. After my visit, I felt comfortable imagining myself as being a part of the football program at Ole Miss,” said Ferrell.
“The fact that I will be able to get early playing time made my decision a lot easier.”
Even though he excelled on the field personally, the team had some losing seasons. He also experienced off the field trials and tribulations.
In 2006 during his sophomore season, Ferrell was rocked by the death of friend and teammate David “Pro” Gibson, who was killed in a car accident on his way to start at Marshall University in West Virginia, where he was going to play football.
The tragedy made Ferrell think about ending his football career. He took several months off from football, but after prayer and words of wisdom, he returned and dedicated the remainder of his career to “Pro” Gibson.
“In the off season, I switched my jersey number to seven so that I could be closer to David’s retired jersey number eight,” Ferrell said.
The following season, the Baby Rattlers won the Division 1B State Championship against Victory Christian 14-10.
Ferrell’s performance during that season earned him his first scholarship offer.
“Willie is one of the best football players I have ever coached in my 20 years of coaching,” said Johnny Cofield, assistant head coach and offensive coordinator.
At the inside linebacker position, Ferrell displays great tackling form.
The proper tackling technique is to drive low and lunge your hips up with a great deal of force.
Ferrell perfected this technique throughout his six seasons with the Baby Rattlers.
During his last season in orange and green, Ferrell helped his teammates become 1B District and Regional Champions.
The Baby Rattlers advanced to the 2008 State Championship and fell short to Warner Christian 21-13.
“After the loss, I felt like I didn’t reach my goal as a player,” Ferrell said. “As captain of the team, I really felt like it was my fault that we didn’t win, so I took full responsibility.”
He will take that responsible attitude on the road to Oxford. At Ole Miss, aside from focusing on football, Ferrell plans to study international business and finance.
“I chose business and finance because one day I want to import and export goods to pre-industrialized countries,” Ferrell said. “I also want to start a charity that helps children and adults not only in my community but the entire world.”