LARAMIE -- A broken body. A broken spirit. A broken dream.

That could've been Jamari Ferrell's story.

He didn't allow that to happen.

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The infectious smile plastered across Wyoming's newest running back's face Friday afternoon was earned. Perseverance led him to this foreign place, more than 1,000 miles from home, surrounded by mountains and endless western skies.

He couldn't be more thankful, either.

"I had no offers and Wyoming came out of nowhere," Ferrell said. "Now, I'm here. I can't thank God enough for this."

There's that grin again.

Ferrell's tale is one of hardship, mistakes and doubt.

A promising freshman at Mission Viejo High School in Southern California, a severe hip injury put his football future in doubt. He came back. The star ratings, accolades and recruiters did, too. During his junior season, or "money year" as Ferrell called it, a fractured shin sidelined him.

The calls stopped. So did the letters.

"I was talking to a lot of schools back then, too, you know what I mean? A lot bigger schools," he said. "But honestly, as you know, things happen for a reason."

Ferrell rolled up 2,049 all-purpose yards during his high school career, including 1,838 on the ground. He averaged 5.4 yards per carry and found the end zone 23 times. He saved his best for last, rushing for 898 yards as a senior.

Options, those were limited.

Ferrell made his way to Independence Community College in Kansas. That served as another opportunity to prove the doubters wrong. Instead, it proved to be another setback. An injury didn't cost him this time. Instead, it was a lapse in judgement, one he wasn't eager to speak about.

"Unfortunately I ran into trouble and I got kicked out," he said.

Ferrell reluctantly headed home.

 

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After talks with his family, the 5-foot-8, 190-pound then-freshman decided his best bet was to attend the school "across the street," Saddleback Community College. Ideal? Hardly.

Ferrell will never forget those looks.

Perplexed. Stunned. Pity filled.

The next big thing was working the drive thru at the local Kentucky Fried Chicken.

"Everybody's like, 'what the heck? You're working at KFC?  Nobody really knew that I would be here today," he said.

Through it all, Ferrell added, he never lost faith. He still believed in his abilities on the football field. He knew he was destined for bigger things. Though it wasn't his dream to play at the hometown junior college, he began to view it as yet another chance to redeem himself. He did just that, scampering for nearly 600 yards on just 131 carries. That's an average of nearly 4.6 yards per carry. He also added five rushing touchdowns during his two-year stint.

Still, his phone wasn't ringing.

Harrison Waylee, Wyoming's prized offseason addition, needed knee surgery. The coaching staff received that unwelcome news this summer. The Cowboys' potential starting running back will reportedly miss the "first couple games" as he recovers. The fact fellow back DQ James was still rehabbing a torn ACL made matters even more urgent.

That opened the door.

UW head coach Craig Bohl said he and his staff began to scour the country looking for depth. The vetting process was underway. That's where Colin O'Brien comes in.

Wyoming's senior tight end knew a guy. A quick, twitchy runner who was hampered by injuries. A player who battled adversity only to get a shot. O'Brien would know, too. He played with Ferrell in high school and grew up in the same town.

"When you take a junior college guy -- there are great finds that are out there -- you also have to look through and say, 'OK, what kind of character does he have? Is he going to mesh in with Wyoming?' Beyond physical ability, our culture here is such now that if you're not in-tune, you're going to stick out," Bohl said.

The verdict after three practices?

"He's really been a pleasant surprise," Wyoming's head coach added. "We're pleased to have him."

New Mexico wanted Ferrell. So did the Cowboys' Border War rival, Colorado State. He came to Laramie for a number of reasons.

O'Brien and his family being a major one.

"I don't even know what human would ever do that for somebody," Ferrell said. "I'm not even a son, you know what I mean? Like for (Jerry O'Brien) to go out of his way to tell Colin to send this film to the coach ... it felt unreal, like it's a movie. That whole household, they just love me to death. And I love them.

"I just can't thank them enough for this opportunity. I wouldn't be here without them."

Ferrell also played at Mission Viejo with UW safety Brenndan Warady.

Ferrell was offered a preferred walk-on spot. That was good enough. Two months later, UW's staff sweetened the pot. He's now a full scholarship player.

"The night I committed I went home and cried with my mom for probably an hour," he said. "Just, you know, I finally got it. The job still isn't finished. I still want to complete my dream to go to the NFL, and I have two years to do that. But, I'm here now and God gave me the opportunity to shine and show what I can do. I know where I'm supposed to be."

Ferrell simply laughs when asked about the transition from sunny California to the high plains. He calls it "slow" here. He loves that. The school pride throughout the town and the friendly faces make it that much sweeter. That first Division-I practice, yeah, it was an eye-opener.

The speed. The size. The altitude.

It's all been a factor.

Still, that didn't stop Bohl from singling him out -- unprompted -- after the first official practice of the fall.

"I was pleased with Jamari," he said.

Ferrell is taking nothing for granted these days. A task as simple like sliding on shoulder pads now serves as a time for reflection. This was never a promise.

His eyes gazed up at the ceiling. That boyish smile is back.

"It's a blessing," Ferrell said. "A crazy, crazy blessing.

University of Wyoming’s Top 50 Football Players

During the summer of 2021, 7220Sports.com counted down the Top 50 football players in University of Wyoming history, presented by Premier Bone & Joint Centers, Worthy of Wyoming.

The rules are simple: What was the player's impact while in Laramie? That means NFL stats, draft status or any other accolade earned outside of UW is irrelevant when it comes to this list.

This isn't a one-man job. This task called for a panel of experts. Joining 7220's Cody Tucker are Robert GagliardiJared NewlandRyan Thorburn, and Kevin McKinney.

We all compiled our own list of 50 and let computer averages do the work. Think BCS -- only we hope this catalog is fairer.

Don't agree with a selection? Feel free to sound off on our Twitter: @7220sports - #Top50UWFB

- University of Wyoming’s Top 50 Football Players