The Furman Defense:
Furman’s defense in 2013 wouldn’t seem that it was one that was dominant, and one glance at the stats would back up that claim. However, it should be noted the Paladins were aggressive and physical on that side of the football, as the Paladins ranked ninth nationally in turnover margin last season (+0.9).
The Paladins certainly didn’t put up the kind of numbers that would strike fear in opponents last season, but it’s a defense that returns nine starters, and should certainly be the strength of the team this fall.
The biggest drawback for the Paladins entering the 2014 season is not having nickel back Jairus Hollman–an All-Southern Conference selection and a player that allowed the Paladins to make a run at the league title last season, single-handedly winning a pair of games, with a blocked field goal helping the Paladins to a 21-20 win over Presbyterian, and then helped the Paladins get a win over South Carolina State, returning a school-record punt 90 yards for a score and then sealed the win with a 34-yard INT return for a score–who was kicked off the team for a violation of school policy.
The Paladins are coming of a 2013 season in which they ranked 44th in scoring defense (24.3 PPG), 75th in total defense (404.6 YPG), 89th in rush defense (197.0 YPG) and 44th against the pass (204.6 YPG)–but you have to only glance at one number that tells the story of Furman’s defense in 2013, and that number is turnover margin (+0.9).
The strength of the Paladin defense is probably its front seven, and much credit has to go to defensive line coach Jimmy Lindsey, who has taken a defensive front and made it one of the more dominant units in the SoCon coming into the 2014 season. Lindsey was also largely responsible for building the monster of a defensive line that Chattanooga has had over the past couple of years.
To get an idea of just how dominant Lindsey’s line has been, one only has to look at a pair of games over the past couple of seasons. The Elon game in 2012 saw the Paladins register seven sacks, and in the Appalachian State game last season, fans just saw how athletic a guy like defensive end Gary Wilkins (79 tackles, 13 TFL, 5.5 Sacks, 4 PBU, 1 INT, 1 TD) was. Wilkins is a next-level player, and reminds me of former South Carolina Gamecock All-American Eric Norwood, who played both defensive end and outside LB in Ellis Johnson’s defense.
Wilkins’ 98-yard INT return for a score, in which he hurdled Mountaineer wideout Andrew Peacock was one of the highlights of the season for the Paladins.
Folks that show up on Saturdays at Paladin Stadium, and the ones that have been fans since the days ofdomination during the late 1980s and early ‘90s, remember the great ones like Chris Roper, Ryan Livezey and Kelly Fletcher are all players that bring back fond memories for the Paladins.
Since those days, there have been flashes of some good defensive line play, especially in the late 1990s, with guys like Brian Connor and Bryan Dailer, who would go on to become one of the greatest defensive ends to ever play at Furman and in the SoCon.
Dailer would finish his career tied for the most sacks in school history with 35.5 sacks in his career, while his seven sacks in a single game in his final game as a Paladin in 1997 ranks as a Southern Conference single-game record and is one of the most dominating defensive performances.
The line that included LeBryan Sperling and Brandon Poole was solid in the early 2000’s, and then Roy Ravenell anchored a strong unit back in 2004. Wallace Artis was the lynchpin of a solid pass-rushing front in 2007, which ended the season leading the Southern Conference leading the league in sacks, but until the arrival of Bruce Fowler and his staff, the Paladins have had trouble getting to the quarterback.
However, in the three seasons in which Fowler has been the head coach of the Paladins, the Paladins have recorded a combined 64 sacks in three seasons, which is the fourth most in a three-season period since sacks have been tallied starting back in the early 1980’s.
The most sacks in a three-year span, in case you were wondering, happened back in those glory years from 1988-90, which saw the Paladins get to the quarterback a whopping 90 times, averaging 30 QB takedowns per season.
The second-highest total in a three-year span came from 2006-08, which saw the Paladins record 69 QB sacks. The third most came during the Bobby Johnson era, which saw the Paladins post 66 sacks from 1995-97, which of course coincided with the Dailer years.
The ability to get pressure with your front four is so vital to any team that hopes to make a run at a national title, and this season, the Paladins have the ability to do that, and not only that, the Paladins have depth and athleticism, despite once again being a bit undersized.
The transition of Wilkins to the defensive front a couple of years ago was a huge boon for the defense, and Wilkins, who was the team’s most athletic linebacker, parlayed those talents into becoming the teams most dominant pass-rushing threat.
Other than Chattanooga’s Davis Tull, the argument could certainly be made that Wilkins is just behind Tull in terms of being the best at his position in the SoCon and perhaps one of the best in the nation.
The last defensive end that you could legitimately make that claim that suited up for the Purple and White was Bryan Dailer back in 1997.
Where Wilkins does have an edge on Tull is overall athleticism, whereas Tull might be a little more powerful by just bull-rushing the tackle. Wilkins is so quick and athletic that he causes nightmares for plenty of left tackles around the SoCon.
Wilkins is one of the most athletic players on the Furman defense, and no one will soon forget his 98-yard interception return for a score in the Paladins’ 27-10 win over Appalachian State last season, changing the complexion of that football game as well as the season as a whole. Wilkins will be just one part of what should be an exceptional tandem of defensive ends this fall.
The best news for the Paladin defense this season will be the return of defensive end Shawn Boone, who saw his season end prematurely last fall after suffering a knee injury in the lead-up to the Presbyterian game in week two. Boone and Wilkins comprise what could quite possibly be the most athletic defensive end tandem in the history of Furman football. It’s certainly a pass-rush tandem that has the potential to challenge Chattanooga as one of the top tandems in the Southern Conference, and perhaps even nationally.
Boone looked a step quicker and seemed to be vocally asserting himself as one of the leaders of what should be one of the more talented Furman defenses in quite sometime.
Boone is an All-SoCon caliber defensive end, and is one of the more athletically gifted members of that Paladin defensive line. In his Paladin career, Boone has been an integral part of the Furman defense during his career, having posted a total of 8.5 sacks in his Furman career.
The highlight of Boone’s career, of course, came back during his freshman season in 2010, tipping a Stephen Garcia pass up in the air and intercepting it and managing to find his way into the end zone in the third quarter, and that’s when things between Furman No. 13 South Carolina got interesting before the Paladins would eventually drop a 38-19 decision at Williams-Brice Stadium.
Boone’s injury would turn out to be a blessing in disguise for Ira McCune (47 tackles, 8 TFL, 2.5 Sacks, 4 FR), who made the move from the interior defensive line to the bookend position, as he would bolster the Paladin defensive front with his quickness and athleticism. He would not be Boone, but he would add the kind of physical power and a bit more size on the edge that that actually ended up benefitting the Paladin one-two pass-rushing punch.
He would become one of the most important players on the defensive side of the football last season for the Paladins, as he recovered a pair of fumbles, as well as causing one, in the Paladins’ crucial, 16-14, win at Georgia Southern to begin the final month of the regular-season. His second fumble at the Georgia Southern 45, sealed the win for the Paladins.
With McCune adding adding strong play at defensive end, along with Shawn Boone, the trio of the aforementioned duo, along with the All-America candidate Wilkins, the Paladins have three athletes that have the potential to be game-changers.
The most improved aspect of the Furman defense from 2012-2013 was the defensive tackle posiion, where John Mackey (58 tackles, 1 FF) and Jordan Hawkins (22 tackles, 2.5 TFL, 1 FF), who will comprise the remainder of what should be the an outstanding defensive line for the upcoming campaign.
Mackey is coming off a solid season, and has been a key asset in the middle of that Paladin defense. The 6-0, 285-lb native of Chattanooga, Tenn, had his best game against Coastal Carolina, posting six tackles and two tackles-for-loss.
Hawkins was called into action as a result of the injuries along the defensive line, and as a true freshman last season, did an outstanding job of stepping in and filling in the gap left in the Furman defensive line after the move of Ira McCune from the defensive interior to defensive end.
Hawkins would enjoy good outings against both Georgia Southern and Chattanooga last season, posting three tackles, a sack and forced a fumble against the Mocs, and a forced fumble against the Mocs. He posted a season-high four tackles in the win over the Eagles.
The depth on the defensive line should be solid this fall, with players like Danny Palmer (8 tackles, 1.0 sack, 1 FR), Brian Ross (7 tackles, 2.0 sacks), and Brad Minter (8 tackles) will comprise the depth along the Furman defensive front heading into the 2014 season. All three are expected to compete for plenty of playing time this fall, with Palmer providing depth at the nose tackle position.
All three are eager to prove themselves this fall, with Minter, Ross and Palmer all adding outstanding depth to the defensive front, which is something Furman hasn’t had the luxury of having in past seasons on either the offensive or defensive lines.
The Paladins are rich in the talent reservoir in young defensive ends, with redshirt freshmen Brian Nwokolo and James Elliott expected to come into the team this season and add depth and even more athleticism to an already athletic defensive front. Jaylan Reid, a true freshman, might be the most highly-acclaimed addition to the defensive line, and will likely line up on the defensive interior this fall.
Though talented, expected true freshman defensive end Connor Jackson out of Tallahassee, FL, will probably redshirt this season. A player talented enough to play this season, but will also likely redshirt is Chinedu Okonya was a high-prized recruit and has the talent to play this fall, but like Jackson, and with so much depth already at defensive end, will likely redshirt this fall.
he top player on the defensive side of the football is Cobb County Touchdown Club Defensive Lineman of the Year Jaylan Reed, who is one of four strong signees on the defensive line that could see time as a contributor up front this fall.
Reid has excellent athleticism and he is yet another signee out of Hillgrove High School. A 5-11, 266-pound native of Marietta, GA, will be a bit bigger defensive end if he end up playing that position, but will likely end up at defensive tackle.
Furman picked up a diamond in the rough with the signing of Reid, who was a two-star recruit, and racked up 94 tackles, 16 TFLs and seven sacks. He could end up playing end or some tackle at Furman, but is too talented to completely keep off the field this season.
The other talented signee along the defensive front for the Paladins is Okonya, who is another signee along the defensive line, and like Reid, is an exceptional athlete. Unlike Reid, Okonya will play exclusively at defensive end and is more accustomed to the type of defensive lineman that the Paladins have recruited over the past few years, which is the leaner more athletic type of defensive line product.
The 6-1, 215-pound native of Riverdale, GA, playing his prep football at Riverdale High School. According to 24/7 sports, Okonya is a two-star recruit from Riverdale High School, finishing out his senior season with 66 tackles, 19 TFLs and seven sacks as a senior. Having seen Okonya in several clips, Paladin fans have a lot to be excited about in years to come.
Jackson, whose brother plays at Samford, making for a sibling rivalry and a nice back story when the Paladins suit up against the Bulldogs later in the season.
Jackson, who comes to Furman from Tallahassee, FL, and the Florida State University school, where he was a two-star recruit coming to Furman, according to rivals.com. The 6-2, 254-pound Jackson played both defensive end and offensive tackle during his prep career. In his junior and senior seasons combined, Jackson registered 71 tackles, six TFLs and 5.5 sacks.
The final true freshman signed by the Paladins this past February is Daniel Butler, who’s a talented, 6-4, 265-lb native out of Enterprise, AL–a region Furman has recruited extremely well since Bobby Lamb was the head coach at Furman–is a player who will also likely redshirt this fall, and was a two-star recruited, according to both Rivals.com and 24/7sports.
Butler played primarily defensive tackle and nose guard during his prep career at Enterprise High School.
He helped Enterprise to a pair of 7-5 records each of the past two campaigns, and posted 47 tackles, six tackles for-loss, two sacks, one fumble recovery, three caused fumble, and 11 quarterback pressures as a senior.
Butler is another player that will have a chance to carve out a spot in the depth chart along the depth chart, but the reality of it is, Okonya and Reid are likely the only recruits along the defensive line that won’t redshirt, although with the talent recruited the past couple of seasons, the effort will be made to redshirt the past two seasons. Like Reid, Butler will likely end up at defensive tackle, but can play either position along the defensive front.
Elliott has a chance to be a breakout player as a reserve along the defensive front for the Paladins this fall as a reserve along the defensive front. Elliott is as athleticially talented and I think is a player that will remind Furman of former Paladin defensive end Ryan Livezy, and the 6-2, 227-pound product of Christ Presbyterian Academy–coached by former Furman quarterback and Hall-of-Fame QB Ingle Martin–is expected to see plenty of action at defensive end this fall.
Over the years, the Furman linebacking corps has been known for excellence, and in terms of turning out linebackers, no team in the Southern Conference has turned out as much talent at the position, year-in and year-out over the past three decades.
There was a bit of a lull at the position, however, just prior to the arrival of head coach Bruce Fowler, but even then, there were players like Andrew Jones and Kadarron Anderson were there during some of the lean years–both All-SoCon performers and among the top quarterbacks in the SoCon during their respective careers as Paladins.
However, the last truly great trio of linebackers for the Paladins, truth be told, was back in 2004, which featured the likes of Mike Killian, Gary Nelson and William Freeman.
This season, however, the Paladins have a linebacking corps that would rival any program in the FCS. Both Carl Rider (136 tackles, 8.0 TFL, 2.0 sacks, 1 FR, 1 INT) and Cory Magwood (77 tackles, 2.5 TFL, 2 FFs) return to the fold as the main linebackers for the Paladins heading into the 2014 season. Rider, a 6-2, 214-lb junior from Suwanee, GA, was a postseason and preseason First-Team All-Southern Conference selection.
Rider totaled a team-leading 136 tackles in his first season patrolling the middle of the Paladin defense. That tackles total recorded by Rider last season, and returns as the SoCon’s leading tackler. Rider had several standout games for the Paladins last fall, recording double-digit tackle performances on eight occasions last season, including each of the final three games.
Rider’s best performance for the Paladins came in a 31-9 loss at league co-champion Chattanooga, as he registered 16 tackles and a pair of sacks.
Rider will be at the center of the 4-2-5 Furman defense, but he won’t be the only linebacker with all-conference potential in the Paladin linebacking corps this fall. Magwood, a Varnville, S.C., native out of Wade Hampton High School, is a great athlete and the 6-1, 216-lb started in six of 12 games in which he played in last season.
The junior linebacker garnered Southern Conference Player of the Week honors following his performance against Wofford in the regular-season finale, as he would record a career-high 16 tackles and half-a-tackle-for-loss. Magwood’s performance matched a season high recorded by a Paladin linebacker. He will play the weakside linebacker position for the Paladins this fall.
The Paladins come into the season with good depth at linebacker, and another all-conference and potential All-America candidate that can play either outside linebacker or nickel, as preseason First Team All-Southern Conference selection Marcus McMorris (113 tackles, 9.0 TFL, 1 FF, 1 FR, 2 INTs, 1 TD) returns as another veteran on what should be a very talented front seven for the Paladin defense.
But McMorris not only has experience at linebacker, he also boasts extensive experience in the secondary, and he might be more needed in that area this season, with Jairus Hollman no longer with the Paladin football team. McMorris’ ability to play either position makes him a versatile asset to the Paladin defense.
He’s the leading playmaker on the Paladin defense, and he had three double-digit tackle games last fall, with two of those double-digit tackle performances came in the final three games of the season for the Paladins, recording 12 stops against Wofford in the regular-season finale, and posted 11 stops against South Carolina State.
In the 35-17 win over Samford, McMorris garnered Sports Network National Player of the Week honors after recording 11 tackles, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and an 89-yard INT return for a score to help Furman continue its late-season surge.
For his career so far in the Purple and White, McMorris has been sensational, registering 161 tackles, 12.0 TFL, 10 passes defended, three fumble recoveries, a forced fumble, four INTs and three TDs each of the past two seasons, with two of those INT returns in excess of 80 yards.
There is talent in the ranks at linebacker as well, including T.J. Warren (45 tackles, 4.5 TFL, 1.0 sack, 2 PBU, 1 FR) and Nic McBride will be two of those reserves at linebacker this fall. Warren came up big for the Paladins, especially in the game at The Citadel, in which injuries would plague the Paladins at linebacker, and Warren, a native of Chattanooga, Tenn, would come in and garner SoCon Player of the Week honors.
In the game against the Bulldogs, he posted seven tackles, 3.0 TFL and a sack in the SoCon-opening, 24-17, win over The Citadel at Johnson-Hagood Stadium. He also posted a season-high 11 tackles back in his hometown of Chattanooga, Tenn in the 31-9 loss to the Mocs.
The 6-2, 202-pound redshirt sophomore could compete to start alongside Rider this fall, and is a good enough talent to find himself right in the thick of the rotation at linebacker this fall for the Paladins, if he doesn’t end up in the starting rotation at linebacker for the Paladins.
McBride was a member of the scout team last season, but the 6-2, 202-lb native of Lyons, GA, and he came to Furman as a two-star recruit according to Scout.com. During his time at Vidalia High School, McBride racked up 98 tackles, eight tackles-for-loss, three sacks, caused a pair of fumbles and recorded five INTs during his senior season.
Another contributor as a reserve at linebacker this fall for the Paladins could be Byron Johnson (8 tackles), who is coming off a solid spring for the Paladins. The 6-1, 212-lb sophomore native of Swansea, S.C.–a city that also produced 2004 SoCon Defensive Player of the Year and linebacker William Freeman–Johnson is an excellent athlete and runs well from sideline-to-sideline.
Other linebackers that could figure into the mix this fall could be Dru Duke, Preston Furry, Jacob Powell and Zach Thier are all young linebackers looking to break into the two-deep this fall, although Thier, Bryant and Duke could end up redshirting. Thier is a second generation Paladin football player, as his father, Jay Thier, was an All-Southern Conference linebacker at Furman from 1994-97.
Over the years, Furman has had some truly great defensive backs, with names like John Keith, Ryan Steed and going all the way back to Vince Perone. Since taking over the head coaching post in December of 2010, Bruce Fowler, who served in the role of coaching defensive backs during his days as a defensive coordinator at Furman in the mid-late 1990’s, and prior to that, it was Fowler’s primary role on the defensive side of the ball.
Over the past three seasons under the watchful eye of Fowler, the Paladins have registered 32 INTs over the past three campaigns, with () of those returned for TDs, including four last season.
The aforementioned Marcus McMorris could be the anchor of the unit this fall, but the Paladins must replace a pair of players from its secondary, including losing one of their most valuable playmakers, in Jairus Hollman, who was removed from the team in early June after a violation of school policy. Hollman’s All-Southern Conference numbers were no doubt impressive, as the team’s nickel back last season.
Hollman played a large role in at least two of the Paladin wins last fall, returning a punt a school-record 90 yards for a score, while also returning an INT 34 yards for a score in the Paladins’ first postseason win since 2005, as Furman knocked off South Carolina State, 30-20, in the opening round of the playoffs. Hollman also blocked a potentinal game-winning field goal, in helping Furman knock off Presbyterian, 21-20.
All told, Hollman will definitely be missed, after he posted 105 tackles, 11.5 TFL, a sack, , three INTs, four pass breakups, three forced fumbles and a fumble recovery last fall.
But the Paladins adopted a motto last season that served them well during their championship run of 2013–that motto was “the next man up.” And the next man up happens to be a pretty good one, as that position will likely fall to Richard Hayes III.
With Furman having so many injury issues at quarterback last season, the athletic true freshman from the Gate City of Greensboro, N.C., shined in his limited role under center, which he played while he was at Dudley High School, but now Hayes III will be lining up in the defensive backfield, where he was originally recruited to play when he signed with Furman in 2013. The 5-11, 180-lb sophomore will certainly be in the mix to start in the Paladin secondary this fall, and if not, he will see his fair share of work on the defensive side of the ball for the Paladins.
The Paladins must also replace safety Greg Worthy–one of the best athletes in recent memory in the secondary for the Paladins–as well as starting cornerback Austin Williams.
Like Hollman, Worthy was an important piece in the secondary last season, seemingly making one big play after another when Furman needed a game-changing play, including a forced fumble late in the half against Wofford, which turned the tide of the game, paving the way for 27 unanswered points to help Paladins overcome a 14-0 deficit and claim a 13th Southern Conference title.
Although not an All-SoCon performer like Hollman and Worthy, Williams, who started at cornerback alongside 2014 preseason All-SoCon selection Reggie Thomas (57 tackles, 2 INTs, 3 PBUs, 1 TD), he will also be missed from this Paladin secondary heading into the 2014 season. Williams finished the 2013 season with 59 tackles, 6 PBUs and a pair of INTs.
Thomas was one of Fowler’s first recruits when he took over the job in 2010, as he was apart of the 2012 recruiting class. The Abbeville, S.C, native burst onto the scene as a freshman in 2012, and has solidified the starting job at one of the corner positions for the Paladins ever since.
Thomas had to follow in the footsteps in one of the greatest to ever suit up for the Paladins at cornerback, in Ryan Steed. In Thomas’ two seasons, he’s writing his own script as one of the Paladin greats at cornerback, having recorded 80 tackles, 4.0 TFL, four picks, which included a 74-INT return for a score against LSU, which gave Furman an early, 7-0, lead over the Bayou Bengals.
With Thomas starting at one corner, the real question heading into fall camp is who will start at the other cornerback position heading in fall camp, and it should produce one of the more intriguing positional battles heading into camp.
Two of those young corners that figure to be in the mix to stake claim to the vacant starting Jamarri Milliken (19 tackles, 1 FF) and Nick Miller (5 tackles, 1 INT).
Milliken heads into camp primed to be a big contributor in the secondary this fall for the Paladins. Milliken saw action in all 14 games for the Paladins last fall, and is one of the bigger hitters in the secondary.
Miller also saw limited action in the lineup for the Paladins at defensive back last fall, and the 5-9, 164-lb, sophomore from Kennesaw, GA, had an acrobatic INT on a fake punt in last season’s 27-14 win over Wofford, which helped clinch Furman’s 13th Southern Conference title last fall.
Other young prospects that could figure into the two-deep at cornerback heading into the 2014 season could be redshirt freshman Donovan Franks, who hails from Altamonte Springs, FL, as well as a pair of true freshmen hoping to compete for a spot on the depth chart as well, in Trent Silfies and Parker Polhill.
Another interesting battle that will take place during fall camp will be at safety, with one of the spots being occupied by Trey Robinson (41 tackles, 2.0 TFL, 1 INT), who played quarterback at Dorman High School before making the transition to safety when he got to Furman. Robinson, a 6-1, 202-lb, sophomore from Spartanburg, S.C., is set to start this fall at free safety, should McMorris make the permanent move to nickel and outside linebacker. Robinson is physical and athletic, and his lanky, athletic frame in the secondary might remind some Paladin fans of former standout Nathan Wade.
Robinson came up big for the Paladins in the win over No. 20 Samford last fall, as he had one acrobatic interception and nearly had another, which turned into an beautiful pass break-up. He turned in his most impressive performance in the playoff win at South Carolina State, where he recorded nine tackles, with eight of those tackles being solo stops. He played in all 14 games, with four starts.
Thomas Brown (1 tackle) and Rodney Anderson (12 tackles, 0.5 TFL, 1 PBU) return as solid candidates to find their way into the depth charter, either as starter at strong safety, or backup behind Robinson at the free safety spot.
Anderson is an extremely physical player, and the 5-10, 182-lb redshirt junior, is known as one of the team’s biggest hitters, and delivered a memorable hit near the S.C. State sidelines on a punt return in last season’s 30-20 playoff win over the Bulldogs. Anderson was mostly a contributor on special teams last fall, and could play a role in that capacity as well this fall.
Brown is a promising, young talent, who was effective wehn called upon in the Paladin secondary last season. Brown served as Worthy’s understudy at strong safety last season, and will likely have a chance to step into that very role on the defensive side of the football this fall for the Paladins.
Last season, the 6-0, 200-lb, redshirt sophomore from Seneca, S.C., saw action in 12 of 14 games for the Paladins, and like Anderson, contributed primarily as a member of the special teams unit.
There are several young performers that could step in and contribute at strong safety this fall for the Paladins. One of those young players that has a chance to be a special one on the defensive side of the football in the future in the defensive backfield is Antonio Wilcox, who is one of the real gems of the 2014 signing class for Furman.
Wilcox is probably another player that wasn’t on most people’s radar for the Paladins’ recruiting board, but he is perhaps the steal of the class. The 6-2, 190-pound native of Fitzgerald, GA, is a tremendous athlete and vicious hitter at safety, and played both sides of the football, rushing for 566 yards and two TDs as a running back, while posting 46 tackles, two interceptions, and three fumble recoveries as a safety on the defensive side of the football. Wilcox will likely find himself more of a fit at free safety.
Another young talent in the Furman secondary that could see some action this fall is true freshman strong safety Joe Farrar. Farrar, registered time at corner, safety, quarterback and safety. An excellent all-around athlete, Farrar, will have a chance to compete for a starting job right away.
During his senior season, the Antwan Randle-El type athlete helped Tucker High School st a 14-1 record and state runner-up finish, passing for over 1,000 yards and rushing for 722 yards as a senior. Farrar is very similar to the type of athlete that Richard Hayes III, who came in and was a huge boost to the Paladin offense in the wildcat when there were injury issues on the offensive side of the ball under center.
Hunter Tremaine (1 tackle), Reeves Rodgers and newcomers Brad Meccariello, Mike Sharpe and Stuart Smith could also figure into the depth chart at one of the two safety positions this fall. The Paladins appear to be well stocked with talent at safety and defensive back heading into the 2014 season.
The Furman Special Teams And Final Thoughts On 2014:
While Furman’s losses on the offensive and defensive sides of the football can best be described as minimal, the same cannot be said for the Furman special teams, which graduated one of the placekickers to ever suit up for the Paladins, in Darlington, S.C., native Ray Early.
Early’s senior campaign was sensational to cap what was already an outstanding career. His 249-career kick points ranking third all-time in program history in kick scoring, and his six field goals in a 32-20 win at Western Carolina helped him put his name atop the Paladin single game field goals mark, eclipsing the five connected on by former Paladin great Glen Connally in 1990 in a win at East Tennessee State. The six field goals by Early against the Catamounts also tied a Southern Conference record.
Early’s 20 field goals in the 2013 season were the most in a single season in school history, as he eclipsed the previous standard of 18 field goals in a single-season, surpassing the previous standard set by Mike Wood. He finished 43-for-59 on field goals for his career, including a perfect mark of 4-for-4 from 50-plus yards in his standout career.
The Paladins have had some good fortunes with place-kicking and punting over the years, with some truly great place-kickers and punters over the past few years, with the likes of Danny Marshall and punters like Lee Willis and Ingle Martin coming to mind.
What made Early so unique is that he could do both and he did both with such precision and equal proficiency, and after having a bit of a lull during his sophomore season, Early really picked it up during his senior season and was a big reason why the Paladins polished a league standard 13th Southern Conference title in 2013.
But now the Paladins must replace an All-American talent at both place-kicker and punter. These two position battles might be the most important of fall camp, but the Paladins have gone out and signed some excellent players over the past couple of years.
The Palmetto State might yet again yield a gem for the Paladins at place-kicker, with the addition of Greenwood High School product Jon C. Hollingsworth.
The optimism about Hollingsworth is similar to that of the Paladin coaching staff when Early committed to Fuman in 2010, and though the Paladins had to replace the experienced Matthew Cesari, the Paladin coaching staff was giddy with the addition of Early, which is much the same sentiment they held with the signing of Hollinsworth back in February.
Hollingsworth was instrumental in Greenwood High School’s success over the past three years, helping the program to a 36-6 record as the placekicker and punter. During his prep career, connected on 9-of-12 kicks, including going 7-for-10 as a senior. He was a two-time All-Lakelands selection as a punter and is poised to compete to step into both roles this fall.
The competition for the starting job for Hollingsworth will come from another Upstate product, in Hunter Townes. The Greenville, S.C. product is a redshirt sophomore and after posting a successful high school career at both quarterback and kicker at Christ Church Episcopal School in Greenville, as he passed for over 3,500 yards and 46 TDs, while rushing for over 500 yards and 12 scores under center, while leading CCES to a 13-1 record and a 1-A state title.
In the Shrine Bowl (North Carolina vs. South Carolina all-star game) in 2012, he connected on field goals of 42 and 27 yards in the South’s resounding 42-3 win over the North. Hollingsworth, Townes and Andy McMilan will also compete to take on the punting responsibilities this fall.
The good news for the special teams is the return of Danny LaMontagne as the Paladins’ long-snapper–often an overlooked area of every football team overlooked, and LaMontagne is one of the best in the SoCon, getting down the field to make plays, with a pair of tackles and who will soon forget that fumble recovery against LSU last season just before the half.
After averaging 23.3 yards-per-return last season, Hank McCloud, which helped McCloud rank fifth in the SoCon in all-purpose yards last season, with 1,762 yards, which included 536 return yards. McCloud recorded a season-long 44-yard kick return against The Citadel last season.
The only special teams return for a score was recorded by the league’s second-leading punt return man, Jairus Hollman, who of course is no longer with the program, recorded a school-record 90-yard punt return for a score against S.C. State last season. Hollman’s 11.8 YPR last season ranked second to only Samford’s All-American return man Fabian Truss, who averaged 14.8 per return last fall.
Candidates to assume the punt return responsibilities this fall could be Andrej Suttles or one of the two Robinson brothers.
Furman’s youth at kicker and punter will be one of the elements to keep an eye on early in the campaign, and the quicker the Paladins get the kinks worked out in that area, the quicker they have a chance to be more than just a threat to win the Southern Conference title this fall.
Furman’s prospects in 2014 are pretty clear–nothing less than a Southern Conference title will do–but in talking with coach Bruce Fowler recently, he’s a coach that never thinks that far ahead, and in that respect, he reminds me a lot of Davidson basketball coach Bob McKillop, which is not bad company to have.
The Furman fan perspective and the players even, which is to expect a Southern Conference title after last season’s run, is to naturally work towards that goal. But coaches like Fowler and McKillop never worry about what’s at the end, or even look what could be at the end of a journey until actually doing all the necessary things to reach that given destination, or in Fowler’s case, he and the Paladins might just end up there before they realize it.
The concern had not even shifted to the season opener against Gardner-Webb when I spoke with Fowler late in the summer, but it was just about getting in camp and making his team better men first, but also, individually better football players. Though he didn’t say it, I got the feeling he really believed this team has the potential to be special, and I think he’s approaching the season with much guarded optimism.
One thing is a given. Furman must be better offensively this fall, and while it might be able to duplicate the turnover ratio and rank as one of the top programs in the nation in turnover margin once again, it would be hard to imagine the Paladins getting five of those turnovers returned for scores this fall.
That being said, Furman was pretty good offensively when Reese Hannon was healthy last fall. Not many teams have had to play five QBs in a given season like FU was forced to do in 2013.