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Louisiana Tech redshirt junior defensive end Jaylon Ferguson discusses what he expects from himself this upcoming season.
Cory Diaz/The News-Star

RUSTON – Preseason trophy watch lists and conference first-team honors try to predict which players will have a statistically solid season, mostly based on what those players have accomplished in the past.

By those metrics, Louisiana Tech defensive end Jaylon Ferguson certainly deserves the accolades bestowed upon him before the 2017 season after recording a single-season, program record 14.5 sacks, tied for third-best in the nation, last year. Committees and voters have seen what he’s done, but for the rising redshirt junior, he’s only concerned about what is ahead.

“It’s all cool, but everything they’re going off happened last year. I still haven’t proven myself at all this season,” Ferguson said. “I like (everyone watching me), I like the challenge with the target on my back being a good pass rusher. I’m excited about it.”

There’s no doubt the target will be on Ferguson’s back in 2017. For starters, you can’t miss the St. Francisville native on the line, lurking at 6-foot-5, 255 pounds but also being named to watch lists for two awards presented to the country’s top defensive player, the Bronko Nagurski and Chuck Bednarik Award, for his historic sophomore campaign.

More:La. Tech offense puts up big plays in sweltering heat

Opposing teams will assuredly adjust their protection packages to try to keep Ferguson out of their backfield and disrupting plays, which will force the defensive end to affect the game in a different way.

“People will start sliding protection toward Jaylon and know where he is because of the numbers he had. It’s very difficult to repeat them,” Bulldogs head football coach Skip Holtz said. “They’ll put a back or a tight end to that side, chipping and double-teaming him.

“When you look at his ability to rush the passer, he’s pretty strong. People are going to know where Jaylon Ferguson is. He’s only going to see more of it this year. I think Jaylon’s got a chance to really be a special player. I think he’s got a chance to continue to play this game on Sundays. But I think he’s got to continue to work on some things, just being a disciplined player, continue to develop his fundamentals. When you look at his height, weight, speed and talent, ability to rush the edge, I think he’s really a special player.”

Senior Deldrick Canty and fellow defensive end calls Ferguson “the sack master.” Watching the master hone his craft first-hand, Canty said the successful season the All-Conference USA preseason selection had last season has motivated the other defensive linemen.

More:La. Tech’s Jaylon Ferguson on Bednarik Watch List

“We set the limit to 10 sacks,” he said. “Everybody’s getting 10 sacks or more. That’s the standard right now.”

Despite facing more obstacles to get to the quarterback, Ferguson said he’s been getting those looks already against Tech’s offense in practice and scrimmages and he’s still able to make highlight plays like he displayed to the public Saturday during the team’s second scrimmage of fall camp, almost taking a handoff from sophomore quarterback J’Mar Smith to running back Boston Scott because he was in the backfield so quick.

“I practice on that, I work on that every day. The other teams got good tackles and double-teams, we have very good tackles and running backs like Jarred Craft and Boston Scott who they’re going to help me get my pass rush down because I get a good look from them,” Ferguson said. “When they hit me, they let it be known. I’m mentally and physically prepared for it, but it’s not nothing I’ve seen from the best backs in our conference, especially on our team.”

His teammates push him to be better. The success he has achieved so far — he currently sits third in school history with 20.5 sacks through two seasons — drives Ferguson to finish his career among the best to do it, but also help guide Louisiana Tech to an elusive C-USA championship.

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“It’s challenged me. It’s challenged me to build on when I started because every year I’ve played, I’ve always built up. Last year was a big year for me,” Ferguson said. “I don’t want to plateau from this point, I want to keep going up. When it’s all said and done, I want to be one of those players that compares to them 20 years down the road.

“Fourteen (sacks) was beatable, so 14.5 is beatable. I just want to win. I want a conference championship. It’s not even about what I want personally, it’s about what the team wants. I’ll do anything for this team right now, so 14 sacks or not, as long as we win, I’ll be happy with it.”

Follow Cory Diaz on Twitter @CoryDiaz_TNS and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/CoryDiazTNS/