Thursday, February 1, 2018

Ellis to transfer as spring football begins

The Furman football team opens spring practice
on Friday. Photo courtesy of Furman.
The Furman football team will have the first of 15 practices in February on Friday as spring football begins. When the Paladins take the practice field it will be without 2017 leading tackler Reynard Ellis. Furman coach Clay Hendrix said that the program and Ellis have mutually decided to part ways.

"He's going to try to find somewhere that's a better fit for him and we wish him the best," Hendrix said.

Pressed into duty three games into the season after a rash of injuries at linebacker, Ellis made the Southern Conference's All-Freshman team. Ellis had a team-high 92 tackles, including five tackles-for-loss and an interception.

In a related move, Navy transfer Cooper Hardin has shifted from fullback to linebacker. Hardin was an All-State linebacker at Farragut High (Tenn.) in 2016, where he also played running back. He had 116 tackles, including 10.5 sacks, and rushed for 1,477 yards and 19 touchdowns in Farragut's 2016 Class 5A state championship season.

"We were a little bit thin at the linebacker position anyway," Hendrix said. "Cooper will be a really good fit there."

Former Wren High standout receiver/returner Bailey Rogers has also decided to transfer. Rogers tweeted that he plans on going to an "undecided FBS program as a preferred walk-on this fall." Rogers had one rush for 11 yards and returned two kickoffs for 40 yards last season.

Hardin and fellow transfers Melton Brown, a defensive end from Georgia Southern, and Amir Trapp, a cornerback/returner from Clemson, are among the 76 Paladins who will be participating in spring practice.

Early Spring
Furman's 15 spring practices are scheduled from Feb. 2-28, with the annual Purple-White Scrimmage tentatively set for Saturday, Feb. 24. If that seems earlier than usual, it is. Last year at this time, Hendrix was still getting his new staff in place. With not much of a transition in staff and less to do schematically this year, Hendrix was more comfortable with going a little bit earlier.

"We have an early spring break. The thought was to get all of spring practice in before the break. I'd prefer not to split it up. That spring lifting, running and speed training is huge for us, especially this year. We will have a great long stretch there where we can focus on that," Hendrix said. "With an early spring, if you get somebody nicked up a little bit they have more time to recover."

The early spring also means running back/first baseman Deon Sanders, who's on scholarship for football, will be able to rejoin the baseball team having only missed the first couple of weeks of its season. Sanders is healthy after missing the last two football seasons and one baseball season due to injury.

While 16 starters return from last season, spring football will provide an early look at some positional battles this season. That includes quarterback where P.J. Blazejowski graduated following a stellar senior season in 2017.

"We're a somewhat experienced group, but we're still a really young group as a team. So we've just got to keep developing," Hendrix said. "I think our coaches will be better a year into it as well. We all know each other. I think the key for us is to just keep progressing."

Schedule released
Furman's 2018 football schedule has been announced. It includes back-to-back road games to start and end the season with five home and two away games sandwiched in between.

The Paladins open the season Sept. 1 at Clemson before traveling to Elon for the teams' third meeting in a year. Furman's home opener is Sept. 15 against Colgate, which will wrap up non-conference play.

"All those (FBS) games are challenges, and obviously that one even more so. But our kids will be excited about going over there and playing, and I like playing those games. They help us in recruiting," Hendrix said. "We know all about Elon. They'll be good again. Then a lot of people don't realize Colgate ended up being co-champions of their conference, where Lehigh got the automic bid (to the FCS playoffs). I think it's a little bit tougher schedule than last year."

Furman begins SoCon play Sept. 22 at ETSU. After playing at the Buccaneers' new stadium, the Paladins won't go back on the road until Oct. 27 at The Citadel. In between, Furman hosts Western Carolina Sept. 29, has a bye Oct. 6, hosts Wofford Oct. 13 and hosts Samford Oct. 20. The regular season home finale is Nov. 3 against Chattanooga. The Paladins wrap up the regular season at VMI Nov. 10 and at Mercer Nov. 17.

Abernethy leaving
One of the main objectives for Hendrix this season is for his team to get stronger, faster and tougher. He said the Paladins were exposed at times last season, particular following losses at Samford and the playoff loss at Wofford.

The team will try to do that this year without Furman strength and conditioning coach David Abernethy, who's leaving to focus more on his private business, Tsunami Bar. Abernethy has been at Furman since June of 2012.

"David did a really good job for us and will be a hard guy to replace. I'm happy for him," Hendrix said. "(Strength and conditioning assistant coach) Trent Caldwell has done a great job of taking it and running with it. There's some things that we wanted to change, so he's tried to make some adjustments. I think that area's like offense and defense - you're always trying to tweak it to make it better."

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