Friday, December 21, 2018

Linemen highlight Furman's early signing day

Furman coach Clay Hendrix
Photo courtesy of Furman
When Clay Hendrix came back to Furman to take over as head coach two years ago, he inherited a team with many young offensive linemen. So many that the Paladins signed only one offensive lineman each of the past two recruiting classes.

This upcoming Furman class of signees surpassed that total on the first day high school seniors could sign. Offensive linemen accounted for a third of the of the nine players who signed national letters of intent to join the Paladins Wednesday in year two of the early signing period.

St. Joseph's Catholic School's Jacob Johanning (6-foot-3, 260 pounds), Myrtle Beach High's Evan Jumper (6-4, 240) and The Bolles School's (Jacksonville, Fla.) Pearson Toomey (6-3, 250) are the Paladins' new offensive linemen.

Johanning was selected as the Region I-AA player of the year this season and was a three-year captain at St. Joseph's. The Simpsonville native started both ways in this year's North-South All-Star Game and had a game-high seven tackles for the North. Jumper chose Furman out of 19 other offers, including 12 from FBS schools. He started at both tackles and at long snapper during his high school career. Jumper, who made 36 consecutive starts and never missed a game, helped Myrtle Beach win the Class AAAA state championship this season. Toomey played both guard and tackle spots, tight end, defensive tackle and defensive end in his high school career. He was also an all-state performer in wrestling and weightlifting.

"We were just dealt a funny hand when we got here. A lot of kids that had signed maybe weren't necessarily the best fit for what we're looking for," Hendrix said. "Today, we signed three guys we targeted who had a bunch of offers. They just fit what we're looking for.
"Evan Jumper had some interest from power-five schools. From the very beginning, he was the kid that made you think, 'you know what, this kid gets it.' He's our kind of guy."

Across the line of scrimmage, Furman added depth along the defensive line with the signing of Centennial High's (Alpharetta, Ga.) Jack Barton (6-4, 225) and T.L. Hanna's Devonte Jones (6-2, 307).

Barton played eight different positions in high school - including punter, and chose Furman out of 20 offers. Barton's uncle, Hollis Barton, was a All-Southern Conference offensive guard at Furman. His father, Bill Barton, played football at Tennessee. Barton had 14 sacks, six blocked field goals and three blocked punts in his prep career. Jones helped Hanna go 25-2 over the last two seasons and led the Yellow Jackets to their first state title game appearance in 44 years this season. Jones had 50 tackles and four sacks this season, giving him 12 sacks in his career.

Also signing with Furman Wednesday were safety Austin Jones (5-11, 180) of Rabun County High (Tiger, Ga.), linebacker/tight end Bryce McCormick (6-2, 218) of Christ Presbyterian Academy (Franklin, Tenn.), linebacker Jalen Miller (5-11, 200) of Byrnes High, and running back Dominic Roberto (5-11, 230) of Pine Forest High (Fayetteville, N.C.).

Playing right across the state line in Georgia, Jones helped Rabun Co. go 37-4 over the past three seasons. In addition to free safety, Jones played receiver and returner. For his career, Jones had 334 tackles, 10 interceptions, 3,300 all-purpose yards (2,200 receiving and 1,100 return yards) and 31 touchdowns. McCormick helped Christ Presbyterian capture Tennessee's Div. II-AA state title and go 14-0 under the guidance of head coach and former Furman standout quarterback Ingle Martin. McCormick caught a pair of touchdowns in Christ Presbyterian's state championship win, which came after ending Lausanne High's 38-game winning streak in the semifinals.

Miller should fit perfectly into the spur position on Furman's defense, having played outside linebacker and strong safety at Byrnes. Miller started for the Rebels' varsity team as a freshman and never left the starting lineup until a knee injury sidelined him for the 2018 regular season. He returned in the playoffs and helped Byrnes reached the Class AAAAA Upper State final, where it fell at Hanna. In his second game back from injury, Miller had seven tackles and an interception return for a touchdown that sealed the Rebels' 33-23 win at Sumter.

Roberto, a native of Shape, Belgium, had his senior season cut short after three games due to a knee injury. In addition to running back, he played linebacker, slot receiver and rover during his career. He finished his career with 330 yards rushing and five touchdowns, along with 228 tackles, three interceptions, two forced fumbles and four sacks.

The traditional, and now second, signing day is set for Feb. 6.

"We need to get about four or five more kids in this next one," Hendrix said.

Getting a head start
Jones, Jumper and Miller are set to enroll at Furman in January and thus be eligible to participate in spring practice, which is set to begin on Jan. 25. Hendrix said all three decided to push themselves to finish their high school requirements in time to begin their college careers in January.

"It's funny they're getting here early, because that's three positions where we still are not quite where we want to be, depth wise," Hendrix said. "At safety, it will be hard for (Jones) to not be on the two-deep from day one."

In addition to announcing the start date of spring practice, Hendrix announced that the annual Purple-White spring scrimmage that unofficially wraps up the spring will be held Feb. 23. Furman's first game of the 2019 season will be at home on Aug. 31 against Charleston Southern.

Lincoln leaving
Furman's 2019 roster was updated following signing day and was without quarterback JeMar Lincoln, who's decided to transfer. Following this past season, the Furman coaching staff told Lincoln they intended to find a new position for him and move forward with redshirt freshmen Darren Grainger and Hamp Sisson at quarterback.

Lincoln rushed for 101 yards and four touchdowns this season, and threw for 180 yards and a touchdown on 14-of-22 passing with no interceptions. In his only start, Lincoln guided the Paladins to a 28-17 win at The Citadel. Hendrix said he wasn't sure exactly what Lincoln's future plans are, but believes he will be successful wherever he ends up.

"JeMar's a smart, great kid who handled all this really well," Hendrix said. "We wish him nothing but the absolute best."

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