Utah State Safety Gaje Ferguson honors brothers through football

Utah State's Gaje Ferguson, right, returns an interception for a touchdown against Michigan State's Matt Dotson (89) as Utah State's Chase Christiansen (48) trails during the third quarter of an NCAA college football game, Friday, Aug. 31, 2018, in East Lansing, Mich. (AP Photo/Al Goldis)

LOGAN, Utah – Gaje Ferguson’s little brothers would have been proud, watching as their older brother raced untouched into the end zone after intercepting a pass by Michigan State quarterback Brian Lewerke.

The interception and touchdown – both firsts for Utah State’s senior safety – pulled the Aggies to within 27-24 of the 11th-ranked Spartans.

“I had been studying their route concepts,” Ferguson said. “I had been telling myself I could pick that one off all week. When I caught it, all I could think was, ‘Don’t get caught.’ When I scored, it was sort of unreal. It was so quiet I didn’t know how to celebrate. But, it felt amazing to get my first pick that way and it was rewarding for all the work I’ve put in.”

He did, and gave momentum back to the Aggies after they had fallen behind by 13. As Ferguson raced 40 yards into the end zone, thoughts of his two little brothers, Bridger and M’Gwire, had to skirt across his mind.

After all, the Ferguson boys, including older brother Colten, have always loved playing football, and would often fill the back yard of their home in Mendon, Utah, with competitive two-on-two games. There were times family patriarch, Jace, would also join in on the fun.

Fast forward to the present. Ferguson is still playing the game he loves, and honoring his late brothers in the process.

Bridger and M’Gwire both died on Dec. 18, 2010, after the car they were driving in spun out of control on snowy roads in Providence. The car spun into the southbound lanes of travel and was struck in the rear passenger area by a Chevrolet Malibu. Bridger, 10, was in the fourth grade at Mountainside Elementary in Mendon and M’Gwire, 7, was in first.

Gaje was with his father when he found out the news of the accident, which also involved two of his sisters, who both sustained minor injuries.

We were towing a broken car into town and were dropping it off at the mechanic when we got the call,” Ferguson, who was 15 years old at the time, recalled.

Time stood still. At that moment, Ferguson’s whole world changed. The next two years were “hazy” and “blurry,” he said.

“I had a lot of anger built up inside of me, and I’ve always been kind of a chip-on-the-shoulder kind of guy, but it really propelled me in sports to where I took my aggression out,” Ferguson said. “Sports were my out, where I let all my feelings out naturally. It wasn’t even like I planned it. It’s just how it all came out of me. My aggression in sports was good. I remember that time being hazy and foggy for me and my family, but one thing I do remember is all the people here in the valley, including friends and family, that reached out to us.

“It was nothing short of miraculous. People that we didn’t even know from all over the valley reached out in so many different ways to help my family, and that was a huge reason why I wanted to come back and play for Utah State. In my mind, it was me giving back, in a sense, to play for the home-town team and for a crowd that I love, even though I don’t know them all individually. I don’t know who helped give my family something in a time of need, and I love that, and I want to say ‘thank you’ to them all.”

The 6-foot, 210-pound Ferguson continues to honor the memories of Bridger and M’Gwire by the way he chooses to live his life.

“I have this saying for myself and it’s, ‘I live for three,’” Ferguson said. “They, for whatever reason, and I believe that reason is meant to be, passed away and they don’t get to live this life. I truly think, as cold and dark as it can be sometimes, that life is beautiful and it’s a blessing to wake up every day. It’s wonderful and we’re fortunate to live in a place like Cache Valley, and to live every day that I get to live, I am very lucky.

“So, I tell myself, ‘You know what? I better take it all in, and I better enjoy it.’ It doesn’t mean I’m always happy or always doing the right things, but I am striving for that, and I am striving to just enjoy life. That’s what I want to do, I want to enjoy my life. I want to enjoy the people that I’m around, the friendships I get, the opportunities I have – everything. I want to soak it in because I know that if they were here, they would.”

Ferguson got a tattoo on his rib cage to honor the special bond he had with his younger siblings. It reads, “Bridger & M’Gwire brotherhood is eternal 12-18-10.”

“One of my favorite memories with them is when all four of us brothers shared a room and they would get scared and come sleep in my bed,” he said. “It wasn’t very comfy, but I loved comforting them as an older brother.”

Ferguson didn’t decide until after his junior year of high school at Mountain Crest (Hyrum, Utah) that he wanted to continue playing football at the next level. The former Mustang earned first-team all-state honors from both the Salt Lake Tribune and Deseret News at linebacker as a junior, but suffered a season-ending knee injury the following season in 2014.

Utah State University Football defeats Tennessee Tech University 73-12 on Sept. 13, 2018 at Maverik Stadium in Logan, Utah. (Megan Nielsen)

Not one Division I offer came, though, but with the help of one of his former Mountain Crest teammates, Alex Kuresa, Ferguson enrolled at Snow College in Ephraim, Utah, where he recorded 45 tackles, including 3.0 tackles for loss, nine pass breakups and three interceptions as a freshman.

Following his first and only season with the Badgers, Ferguson brought his talents back to Cache Valley and enrolled at Utah State, where he walked on before eventually earning a Division I scholarship.

“I had a good year at Snow College,” Ferguson said. “I started and played in all the games, but I didn’t get any different offers than I already had. I had Eastern Michigan at the time, and I believe a few other schools similar to that, but I wanted to play at a big Division I school. I didn’t feel like staying in Ephraim for another year was the right thing to do, so I thought that I could kill two birds with one stone. I could play at Utah State and play in front of my hometown, my family and friends, and be close to those people, who are a big factor and really important in my life.”

Ferguson redshirted his first season with the Aggies in 2015, then played in eight games as a redshirt-sophomore in 2016. As a junior in 2017, he appeared in all 13 games for Utah State, ranking third on the team with 90 tackles.

“His work ethic is second-to-none on the team,” said defensive backs coach Julius Brown. “The way he competes is second-to-none, so for him this year, he did a great job in the spring and in the fall of leading the guys and letting them know how we’re going to do things.

This season, I am looking forward to him having a great year. He has come a long way in the time I’ve coached him. He constantly works on his game and wants to be better. I’m expecting for him to have a great year, and I’m looking forward to watching him play.”

Ferguson is currently working on a dual major in economics and finance with a minor in sociology. The son of Jace and Teri Ferguson is on track to graduate in the spring of 2019. After his football door officially closes – whenever that might be – he has several outlets to pursue in the career world, including financial advising and architecture and design.

This past summer, Ferguson married the former Abby Benson.

“She amazes me every day and being married to her has been so fun,” Ferguson said. “She’s also a big blessing in my life. She makes my life better and easier. She does things for me that I never ask for or expect. She makes me a better football player and she makes me a better person because I think she deserves a good person, so I want to be a good person for her.”

Just like he is for Bridger and M’Gwire.

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