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Bears DT Ego Ferguson raising 18-year-old brother

Ego Ferguson set a curfew for his little brother. It came with a threat — or a promise — if it was broken.

‘‘I tell him, ‘If you’re not in the house by 11 o’clock, you have to find somewhere else to stay because I’m going to lock the door on you,’ ’’ said Ferguson, 23, a Bears rookie defensive tackle.

It’s hard to be both disciplinarian and best friend — both father figure and big brother — to Jeremy Webb, a senior at Stevenson High School. But Ferguson got the hang of it early.

‘‘I said: ‘I’ll send your [butt] home if you don’t work. You didn’t come up here to play around,’ ’’ Ferguson said.

Webb came here from Mims, Florida, to try to earn a college scholarship in football or basketball. The cornerback/wide receiver helped the Patriots win the Class 8A state championship in November and plays for their top-ranked basketball team.

‘‘The situation I was in, my brother, he’s like my son,’’ Ferguson said. ‘‘So as soon as I got drafted, I told him, ‘You’re coming with me.’ ’’

It was a deal Ferguson had made with Webb back when he was in college: If he made it to the NFL, he’d move Webb in with him. He figured he could shepherd Webb through the college recruiting process and make sure his grades and test scores were satisfactory for the NCAA Clearinghouse. Ferguson had dealt with both issues before attending LSU.

Also, he could take some of the stress off their mother, Brenda Ferguson-Bryant, who still is recovering from neck and back injuries suffered when she was pushed while working at a juvenile detention center two years ago. She didn’t want Webb to leave, but she eventually relented to the boys’ plan, figuring Webb could get better exposure to recruiters — and, she hoped, a scholarship offer — in suburban Chicago.

Ferguson-Bryant is proud of both men. She remembers telling a 5-year-old Ferguson, whom the family calls J.R., what to expect when his little brother was born.

‘‘Your job,’’ she said, ‘‘is to take care of your baby brother.’’

She didn’t know how literally he’d take it 18 years later.

She told Ferguson he was in charge of his brother, from homework to curfew to girls. Later, he called her to say he had a new respect for parenting.

‘‘I’m excited he was able to take on that responsibility,’’ she said.

Just hanging out

Ferguson and Webb didn’t put up a Christmas tree this year, though their holiday should get more festive when their mom flies up next week.

Their low-key Christmas was different from the huge family gatherings at their grandmother’s house, but it was fun nonetheless. They enjoy hanging out in their bachelor pad. They play video games, go bowling and watch movies.

‘‘We always wanted to stick around each other all the time,’’ Webb said.

They don’t see each other as much as they thought they would. Ferguson leaves for Halas Hall around 6 a.m. every day, and Webb doesn’t get home from practice until 12 hours later.

But Webb, Ferguson admitted, isn’t hard to parent. He’s quiet and likes to stay home. Maybe the biggest ruckus the two caused all year was when Ferguson brought Bears receiver Alshon Jeffery to one of Webb’s football games. Autograph-seekers stalked Jeffery.

Both brothers tell the story with a laugh.

‘‘A lot of days I come home, I may be frustrated,’’ Ferguson said. ‘‘But he’s definitely always there. It’s a strong bond.’’

Options on and off field

Ferguson picked out a condo in Vernon Hills specifically to put Webb in a good school district. When the Bears’ season ends Sunday, he’ll stay there to watch Webb finish high school rather than retreat to the warmer climate of his home state.

If it’s a sacrifice, Ferguson doesn’t act like it.

‘‘Success is not about sports,’’ he said. ‘‘Success is about how you carry yourself and you perceive yourself, no matter if it’s on the field or off the field. I just want to get him an education, so he has options. He’s not just limited to one thing.’’

At 6-4 and 190 pounds, Webb is two inches taller and 125 pounds lighter than Ferguson. Like Ferguson, though, Webb grew up with basketball as his first love.

Before his senior season, Webb hadn’t played football since his freshman year. He returned to the sport partly because of the numbers game: There are 85 scholarships per Division I-A team.

‘‘I had more knowledge of the game, but he’s definitely a better athlete,’’ Ferguson said.

Webb, 18, now likes both sports the same. He has received interest from New Mexico State and some Division I-AA schools, including North Dakota, to play football. He’s still waiting for basketball offers.

Moving to a new high school was a ‘‘growing and learning experience,’’ Webb said.

‘‘Meeting new people, a new environment, changing,’’ he said. ‘‘It’s starting all over again, starting fresh.’’

Ferguson said Webb has handled it the right way.

‘‘He approached this with open arms,’’ he said.

‘I’m real proud of him’

Webb remembers waking up at 2 a.m. on a sticky summer night in Mims, looking out the window and seeing Ferguson in the middle of the street, doing cone drills.

‘‘Seeing what he does has given me the inspiration that, if I put in the hard work, I know I can be in the same position,’’ he said. ‘‘There’s a job to get done. That was the plan from the beginning. He told me it’s not going to be fun and games. Get straight to business and get my schoolwork done.’’

So far, so good.

This fall, Webb’s standardized test came back with a score that made Ferguson smile.

‘‘He won a state championship and did real good on the ACT,’’ Ferguson said. ‘‘I’m real proud of him right now.’’


Twitter: @patrickfinley