By Stan Veitch/Sports Correspondent
Nikki Ferguson has come a long way – both physically and in soccer – from his days around the Gadsden area.
The man who was instrumental in helping start soccer programs at Southside, Westbrook Christian and Gadsden high schools recently was awarded the Bay Valley (Calif.) Conference Coach of the Year Award for his season at Contra Costa College in San Pablo.
Ferguson was the first head coach at both Westbrook and Gadsden.
Ferguson graduated from Emma Sansom High in 1990, then went on to community college at Martin Methodist in Pulaski, Tenn., before completing his Bachelor’s Degree at Carson Newman U-niversity in Jefferson City, Tenn.
He recently finished his work on his Master’s Degree at American Public University.
In his youth, there were no high school soccer teams in Etowah County, so Ferguson played club soccer with Birmingham Best and on recreational teams around Gadsden.
‘The first competitive soccer I played was for Duane McCool and Shane Hill,” Ferguson said. Both are legendary names around the United States.
Ferguson next put in his dues as a coach in Gadsden and Birmingham, but it wasn’t long until Cal Berkeley offered him a job.
“I was an assistant there from 2001-04,” he said. “I went back to coaching youth in California because the money was better. Then I got the opportunity to return to college at Contra Costa.”
Ferguson coached the Comet women from 2009-13.
“The first year I took over, I came in late and there were zero players,” he said. “They had cancelled the season before and after getting a few (15) players in, we managed to finish 2-12. That first win was the first in two years.”
After that season, Ferguson managed to keep 20 to 22 players each season.
Then in 2014, Ferguson got the opportunity to coach the men. There is plenty of interest in the mens program, with Ferguson having to cut a couple of players each year.
In 2015, the Comets won the Bay Valley Conference title, securing an automatic bid to the NorCal Regional playoffs. That was the first playoff appearance in a decade for the Comets.
Repeating the feat in ‘16 and finishing with a 12-6-4 overall and 8-1-3 record in the BVC earned Ferguson the nod as Coach of the Year.
Three players earned first team NorCal postseason honors – a first in the history of the school. Three more made second team.
But instead of soccer, Ferguson would rather speak of his athletes’ dedication in the classroom.
“We’ve had a lot of success off the field,” the coach said. “One of our players had the highest GPA in the entire athletic department. Eight of our 22 finished above 3.0. Two of them graduated a semester early and went on to four-year schools.”