ST. CLAIRSVILLE - Michael Ferns has known for more than a year where he'd be going to college.
Having committed to the University of Michigan before his junior season began, it wasn't a matter of where, but when for the Red Devils' all-state linebacker.
During a brief ceremony inside the St. Clairsville administration building Thursday afternoon, Ferns formally signed his paperwork to enroll at Michigan in the winter term, which begins on Jan. 9.
ST. CLAIRSVILLE senior Michael Ferns (front row, center) signed his paperwork for the University of Michigan as an early entrant on Thursday. He’s flanked by his parents, Mike and Heidi. Standing, from left, are Athletic Director Kelly Rine, Michael’s sister Kaitlyn, brother Brendan and Red Devils’ head coach Brett McLean.
"I've been ready for this for a while, but it's still exciting," Ferns said. "To finally be able to say it's done and everything's signed is exciting."
A 4.0 student who is currently taking classes at Ohio University Eastern, Ferns didn't go into the college selection process thinking strictly about football.
"It was academics and athletics," Ferns said. "It was a combination of both. We were talking big programs here and Michigan stood out in both regards. It was the top public university at the time when I committed."
By enrolling early, Ferns will begin his classes and take part in the Wolverines' off-season weight program and then spring practice as well as the Wolverines' spring game.
"I'll have a lot of credits done by the time I get to my freshman year," Ferns said. "I think scheduling will be a lot easier for me because I'll be basically done with my freshman courses. It's just going to make the adapting to college life much easier."
To be able to get to this point, Ferns had to significantly increase his academic workload in his junior year of high school.
"A lot of it was stressful last year," Ferns said. "I was taking two English classes, three science classes, trigonometry and senior government. I was stacked from the start of the day until the end of the day. By the time, I got home, it was off to bed and get ready to do it all over again the next day."
Ferns admits that leaving his friends and classmates some six months earlier than most is difficult.
"It's going to be tough, but I think everyone respects and understands my decision," Ferns said.
Many athletes commit to a college, but until the paperwork is signed, nothing is official. However, when Ferns became the first commit for the Wolverines' recruiting class of 2014, he said at that moment he was a solid verbal. And not once did he waiver on his commitment despite some schools' continued recruiting efforts.
"There were coaches who contacted me, but I just made sure I told them I was solid where I was at," Ferns said. "I knew where I wanted to be and what I wanted to do."
The recruiting process really took off during the spring of Ferns' sophomore season. His first offer came from Marshall. Then, basically every major college in America was on the recruiting trail. He received offers from powers such as Alabama, Oklahoma, Penn State, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Stanford and plenty of others. All told, Ferns reeled in more than 20 scholarship offers.
"We knew when we had Michael in junior high we had something special," St. C. head coach Brett McLean said. "He was kind of thrusted into a role and had to play ahead of his age. He did it with so much discipline and class. He's one of the most critiqued kids I can remember, but he's handled that pressure so well. I just hope he can finish his senior year out the way he's done it for four years here. We want to enjoy every moment we have him with and I want him to soak in every second of his high school career because he's going to be thrown into a competitive environment really fast (at Michigan)."
Ferns' final three choices also included the Fighting Irish and Nittany Lions before ultimately deciding that the opportunity to play in the "Big House," take part in one of the greatest rivalries in sports against the Buckeyes and the UM degree was just too much to overlook.
Ferns becomes the second Red Devil in as many classes to sign with a Big Ten school, joining Dan Monteroso at Purdue.
Thus far this season, Ferns is one of the Devils' defensive leaders, but he missed last week's game with a shoulder problem. He plans on being back in the lineup within a few weeks.
"The season has gone great because we've really came together," Ferns said. "We just want to keep it going as long as we can."
Ferns, who was a first-team all-Ohioan last season, was recognized as a pre-season all-American by USA Today this fall. He's also been chosen for the Under Armor All American Game, which is slated for Jan. 2 in Orlando. Ferns leaves for that game on Dec. 28.
Michael, who has also competed in the state track and field meet as well as hoops during his prep career, is the son of Mike and Heidi Ferns.