GREENVILLE, S.C.–Obviously, for a program as rich in tradition as Furman’s, 3-8 seasons aren’t the norm in Greenville, and last season’s disappointing finish has Paladin head coach Bruce Fowler and staff hard at work this spring on the recruiting trail to try and build what Furman was once known more than any other program in the FCS for–sustainability.
No FCS school in the decade of the 1980′s, save Georgia Southern, was able to sustain the type of success on the football gridiron that Furman was able to achieve, and that was due in large part to the staffs of Dick Sheridan and Jimmy Satterfield building a foundation upon which championships could be won on, and one that would last a decade before Furman encountered some turbulence in the early 1990′s before eventually getting back on track in the middle of the decade under Bobby Johnson.
As is the case with every football program at any level in the nation, even the best of programs are going to encounter those rebuilding seasons. That’s why the 2013 season and the 2013 class is vital to the health of a football program that hasn’t made football plans past Thanksgiving since 2006, including having posted losing seasons in two of the past three seasons, which came on the heels of 12-consecutive above .500 finishes.
With the Southern Conference Football landscape a much different animal than it was when Fowler was an assistant (1983-2001) in his previous stint at his alma mater before moving onto Vanderbilt, the 2013 recruiting class and season is one that will likely determine how many of the loyal Paladin football fans will label Fowler’s career.
Fans have a tendency to judge a bit harsher than they should, even at the FCS level, but at a place like Furman and for its football program and passionate, cozy fanbase, the 2013 season becomes the tipping point for Fowler’s career and the direction of the program.
The best news is, Fowler and his staff aren’t surprised by the road ahead, and so far, the tight-lipped staff has quietly fashioned what is shaping up to be one of the best recruiting classes since the early 2000′s.
A Brief Look At Signing Day For The Paladins
But it’s been a perfect storm of sorts for this signing class for Fowler, as he and his staff have addressed every Paladin need to the fullest during the recruiting process. The Paladins, who are coming off a season in which they struggled, have addressed the problem areas in which Furman suffered graduation losses, as well as positions that were challenged by depth issues even coming into the 2012 season. Furman’s 2013 class addresses all the recruiting needs for the Paladins suffered as a result of graduation, as the Paladins went out and made efforts to add depth to the defensive line, as well as the defensive backfield.
Furman, who brought in 17 new Paladins on signing day, boasted nine two-star recruits and one three-star recruit, according to Rivals.com, and Fowler’s latest signing class is among the strongest to come through Greenville in several seasons. If you aren’t a fan that gets caught up in star numbers beside a name, then you only need to look to the fact that the Paladins signed seven players in this current class that seven first-team All-State performers as opposed to two last season.
Offensively, the Paladins focused on the offensive line, quarterback and tight end. The recruiting class for the 2013 signing class, however, is primarily focused on an area where Furman saw its share of struggles and also experienced its most turnover from a year ago, with 13 of the 17 signees on Wednesday were defensive players. Two of the primary areas of focus were the defensive backfield and defensive line.
Furman only got richer at defensive back, marking the second-straight win on signing day in the defensive backfield. Reggie Thomas, who garnered SoCon All-Freshman honors at corner and was tied for the team lead with three INTs last season, will be joined by some outstanding incoming talent in the secondary in 2013.
The Paladins got richer by the acquisition talents like Lake Brantley, FL., product Donovan Franks, who is a 5-11, 185-pound cornerback that exhibits many of the same attributes that former Paladin All-American cornerback Ryan Steed did early on in his career.
Franks is a physical, athletic corner that could find himself competing for time in the lineup right away. Franks had three interceptions during his senior season at Lake Brantley High School, including an INT against unbeaten Lake Mary’s on final scoring opportunity, allowing Lake Brantley to win the 8A District Title.
Brantley was one of six defensive backs brought in by the head coach who once played defensive back for the Paladins. Both Trey Robinson and Richard Hayes III played quarterback in their respective prep careers, but the two tremendous athletes figure to add to the future plans of the Furman defensive backfield.
Robinson, a 6-1, 187-pound product of Spartanburg, S.C., played quarterback at football factory Dorman High School under legendary head coach Dave Gutshall. Robinson was a dual-threat quarterback and finished his senior season by passing for 1,997 yards and 14 TDs in 2012, while rushing for 812 yards and 12 scores in helping the 4A power Cavaliers to an 8-4 mark. Robinson reeled in the accolades as a senior, as he was named all-area, all-region, and High School Sports Report all-state.
Hayes comes to Furman from 4A Dudley High School in Greensboro, N.C., and he comes to Furman rated as a two-star recruit, according to both Rivals and Scout.com. The 5-11, 181-pound quarterback was another athletic, dual-threat, completing his senior season by rushing for 1,802 yards and 33 touchdowns while also passing for 1,506 yards and eight scores.
Nick Miller and Reeves Rogers round out Furman’s defensive back signees for the 2013 class, with Miller coming from 6A North Cobb High School in Atlanta, while Miller makes his way to the Paladin football program from 8A Plant High School in Tampa, which is the former school of Furman rising junior running back Hank McCloud.
Miller, a 5-8, 161-pound product Kennesaw, GA., played wide receiver and defensive back during his prep career, and wide receiver during his time at North Cobb and comes to Furman ranked as a two-star recruit by both Rivals and Scout.com. He had over 600 yards rushing and receiving to go along with 11 TDs total, lending credence to the athleticism that caught the Paladin coaching staff’s last summer, and the defensive backs coach Antonio Goss will look to develop that athleticism into what he hopes will be an all-conference cornerback for the Paladins.
Rogers, a 6-0, 190-pound product of Tampa, will likely find himself competing in the Furman secondary as a free safety this fall, and he has all the intangibles to potentially find himself on the Paladin depth chart as the 2013 season. Rogers is a player likely targeted to replace either rising senior All-SoCon strong safety Greg Worthy or rising junior free safety Marcus McMorris upon their graduation. The Paladins lost free safety and two-time All-SoCon honoree Nathan Wade to graduation this past fall.
During his time at Plant High School, Rogers played both safety and outside linebacker. He totaled 84 tackles, three sacks, four interceptions, and one caused fumble in 2012, as he helped Plant to a 10-2 record.
Rounding out the Paladin signees in the defensive backfield is Nigerian-born Adekunle “AK” Olusanya, who is the third Paladin DB from the Sunshine State, and second from Tampa, playing his prep football at 6A Sickles High School. The 5-9, 195-pound corner was a tw0-star recruit according to both Rivals and Scout.com, completing his senior season by compiling 107 tackles, two sacks, and forced three fumbles helping lead Sickles to 8-3 record in 2012. Olusanya recorded a litany of accolades as a senior, including all-conference, Tampa Tribune second team All-Hillsborough County, and Associated Press honorable mention all-state honors.
Furman also logged an impressive haul of talent at both linebacker and defensive line as a part of this 2013 class, with DeAndre Thornton (DT), Jordan Hawkins (DT), James Elliott (DE) and Brian Nwokolo (DE) highlighting the defensive line signees, while Brad Minter, Nic McBride and Byron Johnson highlight the impressive trio of rookie linebackers.
Elliott and Hawkins are the signees to keep an eye on as signees on the defensive line. Furman fans will be reminded of former Paladin defensive end Ryan Livezy when they see Elliott on film, while Hawkins has a chance to be the next great nose tackle in the SoCon in a few years, which has been a league that has included some of the best in the FCS in recent seasons, including Georgia Southern’s Brent Russell. Both will have a chance to work their way into the lineup right away with the graduation of both Colton Keig at nose tackle and two-time All-SoCon defensive end Josh Lynn at one of the defensive end positions.
Elliott comes to Furman from Franklin, Tenn., and 3A Christ Presbyterian Academy where he was rated as a two-star recruit by both Rivals and Scout. com. The 6-2, 225-pound bookend posted 82 tackles, which is almost unheard of for a defensive end, in helping CPA to a 13-1 mark and a state semifinal finish. Elliott has all the physical tools and potential to put his name along the all-time greats at defensive end to ever suit up for the Paladins, such as the aforementioned Livezy and Kelly Fletcher (1987-89).
Hawkins was also an outstanding find for the Paladin coaching staff out of Wolfson High School in Jacksonville, FL. The 6-1, 264-pound defensive tackle comes to Furman as a two-star recruit, according to Rivals and Scout.com. Having played defensive end and defensive tackle, Hawkins adds versatility, and to the Paladin defense, and he finished his career with 20-career sacks. In his senior season alone, Hawkins produced 70 tackles,including eight sacks, and had a pair fumble recoveries.
At linebacker, Johnson highlights the trio of three excellent signees and comes from the 3A Swansea High School, which also produced former Paladin linebacker great William Freeman (2001-05/2004 SoCon Defensive Player of the Year). Johnson was a Shrine Bowl selection. As a senior, the 6-1, 212-pound Johnson helped Swansea to a 10-2 record and second round playoff appearance in the Palmetto State playoffs, while amassing 84 tackles and eight sacks
Though the Paladins signed only four on the offensive side of the football, Fowler and staff found the 2013 best talent, according to Rivals.com, in offensive lineman Aaron Black out of 5A East Paulding High School in Dallas, GA.
Black, a 6-6, 267-pound offensive tackle, has impressive intangibles and tangibles, and is the lone three-star recruit Furman landed.Black helped his program to an 11-1 campaign as a senior and a 33-5 record and three region championships in his three seasons at East Paulding.
Black is joined along the offensive front by one other offensive line recruit for the Paladins, in fellow Peach State product Jackson Buonamia.
The Paladins signed two skill position performers, bringing in quarterback Dillon Woodruff and wide receiver Logan McCarter.
Turner is a player that provides a great upside for Furman under center. Woodruff is a dual-threat signal-caller, and will be a dangerous quarterback should Furman decide to run more speed option in the future, getting away from the pro-style offense they have had over the past couple of seasons.
In Woodruff’s junior season at Riverdale High School, he connected on 86-of-156 passes for 1,152 yards and 13 TDs, while rushing for 856 yards and 16 TDs on 82 attempts. With those totals, Woodruff garnered District 7-AAA Offensive MVP in 2011.
He finished his career with 6,431 total yards in his career with 74 total TDs. Furman actually benefitted in getting Woodruff, as he had a knee injury his senior season, which kept him from attending camps and kept the bigger schools from taking notice of Woodruff’s talents. Woodruff might be good enough to challenge for No. 2 or 3 on the Furman depth chart right off the bat.
2013 Class Grade–(A):
Obviously, it’s impossible to judge things like heart and character of any recruiting class on paper, but I can tell Furman’s staff making mistakes on character happens about as often as Haley’s Comet makes an appearance, and when you total that in with the potential and stats these 17 recruits put on paper, one can help but think the Paladins have a class reminiscent of some during those SoCon championship seasons of the late 1990′s and early 2000′s before recruiting services even paid attention to FCS recruits. The last two Paladin recruiting classes show that Furman is getting a different type of athlete, both speed-wise and in explosion and power. That only bodes well for the next several years in Greenville. Check below for the class grade and a run down of every recruit provided by the Furman athletics website. For more info on Furman’s 2013 class, please visit www.furmanpaladins.com
Furman 2012 Signing Class Capsules (courtesy of Furman Sports Information):
Aaron Black, OL
6-6, 267, Freshman
Dallas, Georgia (East Paulding High School)
Projected 2013 graduate of East Paulding (5A) High School…football coach was Chuck Goddard…played tight end, defensive end, and offensive tackle during his prep career…Rivals.com 3-star/Scout.com 2-Star…caught nine passes and helped lead his squad to an 11-1 campaign in 2012, including 31-6 first round state playoff victory over Clarke Central…program went 33-5 and won three region championships in his three seasons…two-time all-region and 2012 honorable mention all-state selection as a tight end…also played basketball and tennis…former high school teammate of Furman wide receiver Andrej Suttles.
Personal: Full name is Aaron Joseph Black…born December 23, 1994, in Dallas, Georgia…son of David and Laura Black…has a sister, Amanda.
Jackson Buonamia, OL
6-2, 280, Freshman
Snellville, Georgia (Brookwood High School/Air Force Prep)
Enrolled at Furman in January after spending the fall of 2012 at Air Force Prep School…2012 graduate of Brookwood (5A) High School…football coach was Mark Crews…played offensive tackle…Scout.com 2-star…2011 Atlanta-Journal Constitution and Associated Press/Georgia Sportswriters Association first team all-state selection…helped lead Brookwood to 14-1 record and state championship in 2010, his junior year…squad was ranked No. 1 in Georgia and 14th nationally…former high school teammate of Furman long snapper Danny LaMontagne.
Personal: Full name is Jackson Nicholas Buonamia…born May 19, 1994, in Atlanta, Georgia…son of Nick and Cindy Buonamia.
James Elliott, DE
6-2, 225, Freshman
Franklin, Tennessee (Christ Presbyterian Academy)
Projected 2013 graduate of Christ Presbyterian (3A) Academy…football coach was former Paladin quarterback great and 2012 Furman Athletic Hall of Fame inductee Ingle Martin (2004-05)…played defensive line and offensive line…Rivals.com 2-star…totaled 82 tackles as a senior in helping key CPA to a 13-1 record and state playoff semifinal finish…two-time All-District 10 choice…2012 District 10 defensive lineman of the year…2012 first team Tennessee Sportswriters Association all-state pick and second team all-midstate selection…played in the Tennessee Toyota East-West Shrine Game along with fellow Paladin signees, quarterback Dillon Woodruff and wide receiver Logan McCarter…also competes in track & field.
Personal: Full name is James Timothy Elliott…born January 21, 1994, in Nashville, Tennessee…son of Dave and Karen Elliott…has a brother, John.
Donovan Franks, DB
5-11, 184, Freshman
Altamonte Springs, Florida (Lake Brantley High School)
Projected 2013 graduate of Lake Brantley (8A) High School…football coach was George Clayton…played cornerback…all-conference selection who recorded three interceptions in 2012, including a game clincher in the end zone against Lake Mary that gave Lake Brantley a district championship, part of a 9-2 season….two-time all-district selection in track & field, specializing in 110 hurdles.
Personal: Full name is Donovan Michael Franks…born November 22, 1994, in Indianapolis, Indiana…son of Fred Franks…has two sisters, Maya and Camille.
Jordan Hawkins, DL
6-1, 264, Freshman
Jacksonville, Florida (Wolfson High School)
Projected 2013 graduate of Wolfson (6A) High School…football coach was Walter Williams…saw action at defensive tackle, defensive end, fullback, offensive guard, and middle linebacker during his prep career…Rivals.com 2-star/Scout.com 2-star…registered 70 tackles,including eight sacks, and two fumble recoveries in 2012…totaled 20 career sacks…two-time all-district selection…added third team All-First Coast honors as a senior…twice named Wolfson’s Best Defensive Lineman.
Personal: Full name is Jordan Romel Hawkins…born October 24, 1994, in Cocoa, Florida…son of Stracey and Mervyn Charles…has two sisters, Mia and Venetia, and a brother, Charles.
Richard Hayes III, DB
5-11, 181, Freshman
Greensboro, North Carolina (Dudley High School)
Projected 2013 graduate of Dudley (4A) High School…football coach was Steven Davis…played quarterback…Rivals.com 2-star/Scout.com 2-star…ran 244 times for 1,802 yards and 33 touchdowns while also passing for 1,506 yards and eight scores as a senior in 2012…first team all-conference selection…all told accounted for 60 touchdown responsibilities his junior and senior years…also plays basketball and baseball and competes in track & field.
Personal: Full name is Richard Leon Hayes III…born December 14, 1994, in Greensboro, North Carolina…son of Thomasina and Richard Hayes…has three siblings: Ryan, Kennedy, and Duvontae.
Byron Johnson, LB
6-1, 212, Freshman
Swansea, South Carolina (Swansea High School)
Projected 2013 graduate of Swansea (3A) High School…football coach was Chad Leaphart…played wide receiver and linebacker…paced Swansea to 10-2 record and second round appearance in state playoffs, totaling 84 tackles and eight sacks in headlining a defense that allowed a school record low 12.0 ppg…three-time all-region choice and two-time, first-team all-state pick by the High School Sports Report…named first team all-state by SCVarsity…Shrine Bowl selection…also competes in basketball and track & field.
Personal: Full name is Byron Johnson…born January 4, 1994, in West Columbia, South Carolina…son of Daniela and Bobby Johnson…has three siblings: Presley, Trey, and Devin.
Nic McBride, LB
6-2, 203, Freshman
Lyons, Georgia (Vidalia High School)
Projected 2013 graduate of Vidalia (2A) High School…football coach was Lee Chomskis…played quarterback, wide receiver, safety, and linebacker during his prep career…Scout.com 2-star…racked up 98 tackles, including eight for-loss, three sacks, five interceptions, and two caused fumbles in keying Vidalia to 11-1 season, region championship, and second round state playoff appearance in 2012…named region defensive player of the year, Atlanta Journal-Constitution first team all-state, and 2A South Georgia defensive player of the year by the Georgia Athletic Coaches Association his senior year…Associated Press/Georgia Sportswriters Association second team all-state…starter in Georgia North-South All-Star Game…garnered all-region accolades as a safety in 2011…four-time all-academic selection…also plays basketball.
Personal: Full name is Nicolas Haynes McBride…born October 13, 1994, in Atlanta, Georgia…son of Nita and Jason McBride…has a brother, Nathan.
Logan McCarter, WR
6-1, 168, Freshman
Sevierville, Tennessee (Sevier County High School)
Projected 2013 graduate of Sevier (6A) County High School…football coach was Steve Brewer…played wide receiver and defensive back and also returned punts and kickoffs…member of four IMAC district championship teams…accounted for a school record 2,096 receiving yards and another school standard 29 touchdown catches in a highly decorated career…as a junior caught 51 passes for 973 yards and 16 scores en route to earning Tennessee Sportswriters Association all-state honors as a wide receiver…also averaged 29.8 yards on 16 punt returns…as a senior collected his second all-state scroll but as a defensive back…played in the Tennessee Toyota East-West Shrine Game along with fellow Paladin signees, defensive end James Elliott and quarterback Dillon Woodruff…also participated with Woodruff in the Tennessee-Kentucky National Guard Border Bowl…plays basketball and is an all-state performer in track & field…won region championships in the 200m, 4×100, 4×200, and long jump and finished as state runner-up in the 200m (21.77) in 2012, his junior year…has clocked a 10.94 in the 100m.
Personal: Full name is Logan Bryce McCarter…born November 30, 1994, in Knoxville, Tennessee…son of Stan and Arlene McCarter…has a brother, Kel.
Nick Miller, DB
5-8, 161, Freshman
Kennesaw, Georgia (North Cobb High School)
Projected 2013 graduate of North Cobb (6A) High School…football coach was Shane Queen…played wide receiver and cornerback and also returned kicks…Rivals.com 2-star/Scout.com 2-star…rushed for over 600 yards, totaled over 600 yards receiving, and scored 11 touchdowns in 2012 in helping North Cobb to an 11-3 record, semifinal finish in the state playoffs — the school’s first since 1959 — and No. 4 final state ranking…squad scored county record 574 points (41.0 ppg)…scored three touchdowns, including 90-yard touchdown run, in 48-14 rout of Harrison…second team All-Cobb County selection…played in Cobb Senior Bowl…also stars in track and plays lacrosse.
Personal: Full name is Nathaniel Marlon Miller, Jr….born September 7, 1994, in Orangeburg, South Carolina…son of Nathaniel and Melanie Miller…has a sister, Whitney.
Brad Minter, LB
6-0, 217, Freshman
Hueytown, Alabama (Hueytown HIgh School)
Projected 2013 graduate of Hueytown (6A) High School…football coach was Matthew Scott…played defensive end and linebacker… Rivals.com 2-star…led his team to 6-5 record with 109 tackles, including 13 for-loss, five sacks, and two interceptions in 2012 in first year of competition in 6A ranks…had season high 18-tackle performance in 28-14 win over Walker…named to the Birmingham News All-West Team…as a junior helped pace then-5A Hueytown to 14-1 record, region championship, and state semifinal finish…also plays basketball.
Personal: Full name is Bradley Vanshon Minter…born January 30, 1995, in Tuscaloosa, Alabama…son of DeAidran and Anthony Brown…has three brothers — Cody, Justin, and Kevon — and two sisters, Trinity and Kelly.
Brian Nwokolo, DE
6-2, 220, Freshman
Jamestown, North Carolina (Ragsdale High School)
Projected 2013 graduate of Ragsdale (4A) High School…football coach was Tommy Norwood…played defensive end…totaled 40 tackles and was credited with 16 sacks in 2012 on the way to claiming all-area and Piedmont Triad All-Conference honors.
Personal: Full name is Ebuka Brian Nwokolo…born November 4, 1993, in Greensboro, North Carolina…son of Austin and Nancy Nwokolo…has two brothers, Toby and Justin…sister, Ify, played collegiate volleyball at Fayetteville State.
Adekunle “AK” Olusanya, DB
5-10, 195, Freshman
Tampa, Florida (Sickles High School)
Projected 2013 graduate of Sickles (6A) High School…football coach was Brian Turner…played cornerback, linebacker, and safety… Scout.com 2-Star…totaled 107 tackles, two sacks, and three caused fumbles in leading Sickles to 8-3 record in 2012…earned all-conference, Tampa Tribune second team All-Hillsborough County, and Associated Press honorable mention all-state honors…had 93 tackles and recorded a pair of interceptions playing safety in 2011, his junior year, collecting all-conference accolades…also plays soccer.
Personal: Full name is Adekunle Oluwabusayomi Olusanya…born September 30, 1994, in Boston, Massachusetts…father, Akin, and mother, Esther, are Nigerian-born…has three brothers.
Trey Robinson, DB
6-1, 187, Freshman
Spartanburg, South Carolina (Dorman High School)
Projected 2013 graduate of Dorman (4A) High School…football coach was Dave Gutshall…played quarterback…ran 145 times for 812 yards and 12 touchdowns and completed 127-of-215 for 1,997 yards and 14 scores in 2012, helping Dorman to an 8-4 record…named all-area, all-region, and High School Sports Report all-state…also plays basketball…earned all-region accolades as a junior.
Personal: Full name is William Timothy Robinson III…born December 30, 1994, in Spartanburg, South Carolina…son of Angela and Tim Robinson….has a brother, Wesley.
Reeves Rogers, DB
6-0, 190, Freshman
Tampa, Florida (Plant High School)
Projected 2013 graduate of Plant (8A) High School…football coach was Robert Weiner…played linebacker and safety…totaled 84 tackles, three sacks, four interceptions, and one caused fumble his senior year in helping Plant to a 10-2 record…key contributor on 15-0, state championship team in 2011…program’s four-year record during his tenure was 51-5…also played lacrosse.
Personal: Full name is Reeves Linder Rogers…born August 25, 1994, in Tampa, Florida…son of Andria and Al Rogers…has two brothers, Scotty and Tate, and a sister, Abby…mother graduated from Furman and was a member of the swim team and a cheerleader…cousin, Ashley Phillips Severance, played tennis at Furman.
DeAndre Thornton, DL
6-0, 275, Freshman
Fairburn, Georgia (Creekside High School)
Projected 2013 graduate of Creekside (5A) High School…football coach was Johnny White…played defensive tackle and nose guard….credited with 60 tackles, including 10 for-loss, six sacks and three forced fumbles in 2012…twice earned second team all-region honors…participated in Georgia-Florida All-Star Game in Boca Raton, Fla. and Atlanta Area All-Star Game.
Personal: Full name is DeAndre Thornton, Jr….born September 7, 1995…mother is Toni Thornton.
Dillon Woodruff, QB
6-1, 190, Freshman
Christiana, Tennessee (Riverdale High School)
Projected 2013 graduate of Riverdale (6A) High School…football coach was Ron Aydelott…played quarterback and free safety…registered 6,431 yards total offense and 74 touchdown responsibilities in three seasons as starting signal caller…ran 383 times for 2,440 yards and 45 TDs….completed 297-of-495 passes for 3,991 yards and 29 scores in his career…keyed Riverdale to a 13-1, district championship season in 2011 and was named Tennessee Sportswriters Association (TSWA) and Tennessee Football Coaches Association (TFCA) first team all-state…had his junior season end due to a torn ACL in state playoff quarterfinal that year versus Oak Ridge…bounced back with a solid 2012 campaign, throwing for 1,306 yards and 11 TDs and rushing for 500 yards and six scores on a 9-4 team…three-time all-district selection…played in the Tennessee Toyota East-West Shrine Game along with fellow Paladin signees, defensive end James Elliott and wide receiver Logan McCarter, and in the Tennessee-Kentucky National Guard Border Bowl with McCarter.
Personal: Full name is Dillon Blake Woodruff…born May 13, 1994, in Murfreesboro, Tennessee…son of Carol and Woody Woodruff…has two brothers, Benjamin and Brayden, and two sisters, Kelsey and Mattie.