Daily photo by Emily Saunders|
Roger Ferrell, 54, played football, basketball and baseball at Decatur High. Ferrell went on to play quarterback at The University of North Alabama. On Saturday, Ferrell will be one of seven former athletes to be inducted into the Morgan County Sports Hall of Fame.
‘Coach Webb’s quarterback’
Roger Ferrell a three-sport star at Decatur High
By Brooke Milam
Walking around Decatur High’s campus recently, peering out from underneath a wide-brimmed hat on a pleasant late-May afternoon, Roger Ferrell was on familiar territory.
Ogle Stadium has evolved since his playing days for Earl Webb’s Red Raiders in the early 1970s. Decatur’s gym is now named for his former basketball coach Earl Morris, and the baseball’s outfield now has a permanent barrier, keeping long balls from rolling out into the school’s parking lot.
But the three-sport star said his memories have not faded, and when Ferrell, 54, is inducted into the Morgan County Sports Hall of Fame on June 9, it again will spark old memories of great friends, many of whom he said are still a presence in his life.
“I was sandwiched in between a bunch of winners — in basketball, football, baseball, everything,” Ferrell said. “Three classes of guys at Decatur and I was there at the right time with the right players and the right coaches. It all kind of fell into place for us at that time.”
The names come to mind readily for Ferrell, including coaches Webb, Morris and Wally Burnham, and teammates such as Doug Fisher, Ricky Beaty, Charles Ashwander, Larry Weaver, Rick Pettey, Jerry and Terry Mizell, Paul and Preston Brogdon, and David and Ed Breland.
Ferrell was most accomplished on the football field, losing only four varsity games as a starting quarterback from 1968-70.
Decatur lost to Huntsville with Ferrell as a sophomore under center. Decatur lost only to Walker County when he was a junior. Scottsboro beat Decatur twice his senior year, once in the regular season and once in the Class 4A state quarterfinals.
And like all Red Raiders players from the Webb era, Ferrell said that playing for the legendary coach, who passed away in August 2005, holds a special place in his heart.
“There may be other players that feel this way, too, but I felt like I was Coach Webb’s quarterback,” Ferrell said. “Out of everybody, I felt like I was his quarterback.”
Ferrell rarely left the field, playing both ways as a quarterback and safety for the Red Raiders.
“The only time I came out of a football game was on a kickoff or a punt,” Ferrell said.
Ferrell never lost a football or basketball game to crosstown rival Austin from the seventh grade on.
“(Austin) beat us several times in baseball, but I never lost to them in football or basketball,” he said. “They had some very good players, but we just kind of had their number.”
Ferrell said he still hates to see Decatur lose in any sport, and he continues to use the red and white stadium seat that his father, Sylvester, who passed away in 1997, sat in while watching his son play.
Ferrell also still owns his father’s light blue 1966 Ford pickup truck with the original “Go Raiders” tag on the front bumper.
Ferrell said his parents and coaches gave him great support throughout his career, but that he was never pressured to specialize in one sport like some young athletes today are.
“I really liked baseball as a kid, and in about seventh grade, basketball became my game,” he said. “But I just loved football. I loved everything about it — I even loved practice.”
Ferrell accepted a full scholarship to play football for North Alabama, signing with Coach Durell Mock and moving to tight end, where he started his freshman and sophomore seasons.
His mother, Iva, who passed away in 2006, never saw him play a down of football at Decatur for fear she might see him get injured. Her first glimpses of her son’s talent were at UNA.
Before his junior year, Mickey Andrews, now assistant head coach under Bobby Bowden at Florida State, took over as the Lions’ head coach and had a plan for Ferrell.
“He told me I would play quarterback, and I would lose 35 pounds,” Ferrell said matter-of-factly.
He did both and started at quarterback from the beginning of his junior season until injuring his ankle three games into his senior year. He played sparingly after that, as reserve Steve Clark of Birmingham inherited the starting position.
Ferrell said while playing at UNA, his teams’ finishes weren’t impressive. The Lions’ best records during his time in Florence were matching 4-6 marks his junior and senior seasons.
But he again was surrounded by talented teammates as he was during his playing days at Decatur.
“We had some good individual athletes (at UNA), several who played pro, but it was a rebuilding period,” Ferrell said.
Ferrell said Robert Steele (Dallas Cowboys), Brad Hendricks (San Diego Chargers) and Danny Kimble (Chicago Bears) were among his Lions teammates that moved on to pro football.
These days, it’s not ballgames, but hunting that fills Ferrell’s free time. Ferrell sold his computer business of 22 years, Varsity Computing, and now works for Summit Treestands LLC.
He has been married to the former Kitty Ozier, a 1975 Decatur High graduate, for 26 years. They have three children. Zeke, 22, is a student at UNA and played tennis while at Decatur High. Jake, 20, is in the Marines and played soccer for the Red Raiders. Ali, 15, is a freshman at Decatur and was member of the Lady Red Raiders soccer team this season that reached the state semifinals.
Decatur’s old rivals are still the same. City foe Austin, as well as Athens and Hartselle, are all still on the Red Raiders schedules in most every sport.
From team unity, as well as rivalries, many friendships for Ferrell were sparked, including one with former Hartselle High star and former Alabama All-SEC linebacker Conley Duncan, who nominated Ferrell for the Hall of Fame.
Ferrell joked that without opponents like Duncan defending him he “couldn’t have done as well as I did at quarterback,” before pushing jokes aside and praising Duncan and many others he faced during the years.
He said friendships like that are what makes being inducted into the Hall of Fame special.
“It’s neat to be recognized at home,” Ferrell said. “It’s a good feeling when the people who know you best nominate you. I’m very honored to be just mentioned with those guys.”
Morgan County Sports Hall of Fame
Roger Ferrell will enter the Morgan County Sports Hall of Fame during a ceremony Saturday at 7 p.m. at the Decatur Holiday Inn. A reception will be at 6 p.m. The Hall of Fame also will induct Preston and Johnny Newman, Alfred and Donald Poole, Larry Keenum and Rick Stukes. Stories on them are appearing this week in The Decatur Daily.
Hall of Fame board member Doug Turney is in charge of ticket sales, and people wishing to attend the banquet can call him at 773-2466 during 5-9 p.m. Birmingham resident Steve Shaw, a Southeastern Conference football referee, will be the keynote speaker. Shaw has officiated two national championship games.
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