Joe Ferguson's football pedigree is undeniable.
For starters, the Madison Memorial senior quarterback's father, Brad, earned two letters as a walk-on linebacker at Nebraska in the late 1980s.
And then there's Ferguson's grandfather, University of Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez, who coached the Badgers to three Rose Bowl titles after his own successful stint at linebacker for Nebraska three decades earlier.
But Ferguson, whose Spartans (3-3) travel to Lussier Stadium on Friday night to face Big Eight Conference rival Madison La Follette (3-3), has always been intent on carving out his own identity — both on the gridiron and in life.
"He wanted to be his own person," Alvarez said of Ferguson, one of his six grandchildren. "He never wanted to be (known as) Barry's grandson. He never wanted to take advantage of that, and I always respected that of him. He was always his own person."
The dual-threat, left-hander has done plenty to distinguish himself this season.
Entering Friday night's game — with the winner earning WIAA postseason consideration — Ferguson leads the Big Eight in passing yards (1,320) and rushing TDs (11) and is tied with two others for the top mark in passing TDs (11).
Football has long been a fixture of Ferguson's life. Growing up with a blocking dummy in his basement, he annually attended UW's bowl games and often got a chance to interact with members of the team.
"I got to see what football was really all about, the toughness and stuff," he said. "I think that influenced me to love the game a lot more and appreciate it."
But when it came time to worry about his own collegiate aspirations, Ferguson was intent on not having Alvarez pull strings to get exposure for his grandson, even after a broken leg cut his 2011 season short after four games.
"I kind of like to do things on my own," said Ferguson, who also starts at safety for Memorial.
Ferguson found his own way into several prestigious offseason quarterback camps, including a summer of 2011 stint at the Manning Passing Academy — run by Archie, Peyton and Eli Manning in Thibodaux, La.
Last summer, Ferguson worked with former Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Chris Weinke at the IMG Academy football program in Bradenton, Fla., leaving the camp as a first-team All-Madden performer at QB.
Coupling those experiences with his football savvy and intelligence — Ferguson scored a 31 on the ACT — Memorial coach Mike Galindo has given his quarterback all the freedom he could ever want in the Spartans' spread offense. Ferguson is an active contributor in Memorial's weekly game plan installments and will call his own plays from the line on occasion.
"He's built that trust," Galindo said. "He's been nothing but coachable."
Where Ferguson will land after his senior season remains to be seen. He's received interest from UW, San Diego State and Northern Illinois but seems most inclined to accept an offer from an Ivy League school, with the current frontrunner being Dartmouth.
Still, with weapons such as high-recruited wideout and close friend Jester Weah (28 catches, 511 yards, 3 TDs) at his disposal, Ferguson hasn't given up hopes of building his stock with a late-season push.
"It's kind of scary for the defense," said Weah, who has garnered interest from UW, Pittsburgh, Michigan State and Illinois, among others. "Actually, if I was a defender, I really wouldn't want (Ferguson) to have the ball in his hands 'cause I don't know what he's going to do with it."