LSU defensive tackle Ego Ferguson said after the Tigers’ season-opener that he has been better known for his unusual first name than for his play.
But three weeks later, Ferguson is getting known for lots of football stuff.
He’s known for being LSU’s leading tackler with 16 through three games.
He’s known for being the Southeastern Conference Defensive Player of the Week after getting a team-high eight tackles, including a sack, in a 45-13 victory against Kent State last week.
And he’s getting known for making opposing offenses pay for double-teaming fellow and better-known tackle Anthony Johnson and not doubling Ferguson as often.
“We remind ourselves that we want to be the best duo in the country,” Johnson said. “I got a lot of attention early, and Ego took it like it was time for him to work harder. Both of us have to be on that level.
“I appreciate him for keeping me focused and not get a big head, and I’m pushing him to be a better player. We just help each other out every day.”
Ferguson and Johnson each have 2.5 tackles for loss, which leads the team. So far, they seem capable of controlling the middle of the line of scrimmage as well as predecessors such as Bennie Logan, Josh Downs and Michael Brockers did.
On Wednesday, Auburn coach Gus Malzahn, whose team plays LSU on Saturday, said the defensive front looks typical of LSU, calling the tackles “phenomenal.”
“I’m just trying to be the best player I can be,” Ferguson said. “Each game, I feel like I’ve got to do something better than last week in order to keep improving. Every day, I’m trying to be one of the best, not just an average player.”
Ferguson said he dedicated himself in the spring to working harder to become an impact player after two seasons as a backup.
“I started taking my job more seriously,” Ferguson said. “I thought I knew what hard work was, but I started doing more film work, corrected my technique — footwork, hand placement, the little things.”
At defensive line coach Brick Haley’s urging, he dropped nearly 15 pounds and is playing at about 305.
“It was hard at first,” Ferguson said. When you’re a big guy, you like to eat. And when you can’t eat as much, it messes your head up. I started eating salads and stuff.
“I just had to do it. I made the decision I had to, and I ran with it.”
Ferguson said the toughest parts were giving up pasta, especially chicken Alfredo, and drinking much more water.
“I never liked water,” he said, “but I made it happen.”
Coach Les Miles said it was just a matter of time before Ferguson emerged as an impact player.
“I’ve seen a 180-degree turn (in Ferguson),” Johnson said. “When you look at Ego, he was a big guy last year and couldn’t move as well. I’m proud of Ego in every aspect — he lost weight, he dedicated more time in the film room, he started doing more drills.
“That’s why you’re seeing him play better. That’s why when you see him take on a back, he’s making those plays. He’s helping his team out a whole lot.”
Linebacker Lamin Barrow described Johnson and Ferguson as “first guys on the field and last to leave kind of guys.”
“The way Ego is playing is a breath of fresh air,” Barrow said. “As a linebacker, when you see those two guys in front of you, you have a lot of confidence.”
Ferguson said he and Johnson “feed off of each other,” because Johnson is a better pass rusher, and Ferguson is a better run stopper.
“We had a lot of people that entered the draft early, and we had a hole on our defense we had to fill. And our coach made it a challenge for us to fill that hole,” Ferguson said. “I feel like it’s a competition each day with me and him. We both go out and try to make each other better. The best way to get better is by competition.”
Ferguson’s full name is Ego Jr. as he is named after his father.
“Growing up, I was teased and made fun of because of the name,” the elder Ego said. “In the long run, the name was different, and it helped me gain a self-confidence about myself. So I knew if I survived with the name, I was going to name my first son Ego, and hopefully he would experience what I did.”
Ego Jr. said people ask him about his name “all the time” but his name — in the sense of egotistical — isn’t a reflection of him.
“That ain’t my style,” he said.
But, Johnson said, the name does fit the word in the sense of ego distinguishing one individual from others, as Ferguson’s play has done for him of late.
“You’ve got good egos,” Johnson said. “He’s doing very well right now, so I say, ‘Good job, Ego, you’ve got a good ego right now.’ ”