Saturday, August 31, 2019

Paladins rout Charleston Southern in opener

Devin Wynn rushed for 131 yards and a touchdown in Furman's
46-13 win over Charleston Southern. Photo courtesy of Furman
On a day when it wanted to get off on the right foot, 17th-ranked Furman stomped Charleston Southern 46-13 Saturday at Paladin Stadium. Playing in their first home opener in four years, the Paladins won their first season opener in five years by rushing for the most yards they've had in three years. It's the most points Furman has ever scored against a Division I opponent in an opener, and the most since a 62-14 win over Mars Hill in 2008.

Furman piled up 369 yards on the ground, the most it's had since rushing for 387 in a 49-21 win over Western Carolina in 2016. The Paladins enjoyed a solid day in all phases though. They completed more passes Saturday (17) than in any game last season and matched last season's high for sacks in a game with five.

"I'm just really pleased with how our kids prepared for the season. ... Whether it was spring practice, offseason lifting, running throughout the summer. We had a really good August," Furman coach Clay Hendrix said. "All that certainly paid off. We wanted to start fast and I thought we did that.
"There's some we've got to do better, but it's certainly a good place to start the building process for having a good year."

Furman's "3D" backfield accounted for its first three scores of the game. Quarterback Darren Grainger twisted his way into the end zone from four yards out for the first points of the season midway through the first quarter. Later in the first, fullback Devin Abrams ran into a pile around the two and the pile moved into the end zone for a nine-yard touchdown.

After Charleston Southern got on the board on the first play of the second quarter, Furman answered when tailback Devin Wynn scored on a 13-yard run. When Grainger double clutched a bit on the shotgun snap, a trio of Buccaneers zeroed in on him before he pitched it to Wynn who went in untouched.

Grayson Atkins' 12th consecutive made field goal pushed Furman's lead to 24-6 at the half. The 39-yard effort tied Danny Marshall's school record for consecutive makes.

Charleston Southern marched down the field to start the second half. When quarterback Jack Chambers scored from a yard out, suddenly Furman's commanding lead was cut to 11. The Paladins answered with their best drive of the day. The 13-play, 79-yard drive was capped when Grainger hit a wide open Ryan DeLuca for a six-yard touchdown on third down. Third string quarterback Jack Hardin hit snapper/tight end Evan Vaughn on a two-point conversion to make it 32-13.

Perhaps the biggest play of the game occurred on that drive when Furman was faced with 3rd-and-10 from its own 35-yard line. Grainger found true freshman running back Wayne Anderson Jr. down the middle of the field for a 28-yard gain.

"I knew No. 21 (Anderson) was going to show up somewhere and that play was huge," Hendrix said. "Darren threw a really good ball there."

The Buccaneers didn't quit though. They reached the Furman 12-yard line on the ensuing drive before freshman Travis Blackshear came on a blindside blitz. In addition to the sack, Blackshear forced a fumble that was recovered by Jonah Tibbs.

While a sack and fumble ended that drive, Furman had two other sacks on third down to end others. Dru Seabrook had 1.5 sacks Saturday while Adrian Hope, the nation's leader in sacks last season, split a pair.

"One of things we go by is leaving no doubt, every single play," said linebacker Donavan Perryman, who had seven tackles and a sack. "We were bringing that great effort and tenacity to the game today."

Three plays after the fumble recovery, backup fullback Carson Maples opened the fourth quarter by taking a handoff on a third-and-one play. After getting the first down, Maples squirted out of the pile and took off for a 66-yard touchdown.

"I didn't know Carson had 66 yards in him," Hendrix said with a smile. "I'm gonna have to give him a hard time about tying the tailbacks for the longest run today."

On Furman's next offensive play, Anderson rumbled for a 66-yard touchdown to wrap up the scoring. That made it five different Paladins with rushing touchdowns, which last happened in a 51-31 win over Chattanooga on Nov. 20, 2004.

Wynn led the Paladins with 131 yards on 12 carries. Anderson finished with 90 yards and Maples had 86. Grainger was 14-of-20 passing for 130 yards and ran for 25 yards on six attempts. The Paladins finished with no turnovers and 27 first downs, 20 of which came in the first half.

"Our offensive line is pretty exciting to run behind. We've been harping on dominating and they certainly dominated today," Wynn said. "We showed we could get out in open space and make long runs and it started off because of them."

Friday, August 30, 2019

Paladins try to reverse opening trend

Furman junior captain Bo Layton leads an offensive line that returns all
five starters and four reserves this season. Photo courtesy of Furman
Furman begins the 2019 football season Saturday with a rare home opener, seeking something else that's been rare - a 1-0 start to the season. The Paladins, who are ranked No. 17 in the preseason FCS Coaches poll and No. 19 in the STATS media poll, host Charleston Southern looking for their first season opening win since 2014. Furman, which has turned things around after 0-3 starts each of the past two seasons, has won just one opener since 2010.

Saturday will mark Furman's first opening game at Paladin Stadium since 2015 against an opponent it's never faced before. Charleston Southern, which started football in 1991, is the lone Division I in-state opponent the Paladins had never played. In addition to being an unfamiliar foe, the Buccaneers also have a new head coach in Notre Dame's all-time leading rusher Autry Denson. So for Furman, there's plenty of unknown going into this matchup.

"With openers there's always a level of uncertainty and in this case, even more so," Furman coach Clay Hendrix said. "Everything we've seen says there's going to an air raid style offense. They have an experienced quarterback who's a mobile guy.
"They're only two years removed from winning a couple of conference championships. Historically, they've been really good defensively. It will certainly be a challenge for us, but we're excited to finally get to play."

There will be new faces on the Furman sideline as well Saturday, and they will be trying to shut down CSU's air attack. It will be the first game for new cornersbacks coach Rod Ojong and new safeties coach Corico Wright. They're part of a defensive staff led by new coordinator Duane Vaughn. Senior spur Jordan Willis, one of four captains, said Vaughn's new position has changed nothing about his enthusiastic coaching style.

"Coach Vaughn's been a great leader for us. He hasn't changed one bit. He's probably the most energized guy if you see him out on the practice field. ... That's how he's been all four years I've been here," Willis said. "I think some of the leadership we have on defense helps him as well.
"It's a lot easier when you have players pushing other players. ... We try to correct the little things before the coaches can even get to it."

While opportunities against a pair of FBS opponents loom the first two Saturdays in September, the Paladins are well aware of the importance of this August non-conference game. Missing the chance to earn a win against a Colgate team that went undefeated in the regular season last year because of the weather may have very well cost Furman a bid to the FCS playoffs.

Last year's playoff snub, when the Paladins became just the second Southern Conference champion to not receive a postseason invite, gives the team plenty of motivation headed into this season. That combined with the slow starts of the past give even more cause for Furman to take care of business Saturday.

"We've been saying, 'let's leave no doubt and don't leave it (a playoff bid) in somebody else's hands.' The only way to do that is to win the conference and get the automatic bid," Hendrix said. "The other thing is we'd like to start (the season) a little faster than we have. Obviously, we haven't started very well for various reasons the past couple of years."

Hope for a better start could be found in the overall confidence level of the team entering this season. When preseason camp ended, Hendrix described the difference between this year's camp and his first two as "night and day." In addition to experience, he noted the biggest cause for improvement this preseason was the tremendous shape the team showed up in following offseason workouts.

Confidence is especially high in deep experienced positions, such as the offensive line. All five starters return for the Paladins along the line, as well as the top four reserves.

"This is the first year where I feel like we (the offensive line) have the ability to take over," junior left tackle Bo Layton, a captain, said. "We can be that unit that provides leadership on offense. I think on every team, it starts up front.
"I feel great about our receiving corps, our backfield and quarterback situation. We have a lot talented, smart guys that work hard. I think that's going to equate to a lot of success."

Monday, August 26, 2019

Depth chart released: Grainger to start at QB

Furman redshirt freshman Darren Grainger (4) has won the
starting quarterback competition. Photo courtesy of Furman
Darren Grainger has won the starting quarterback competition for Furman and is set to make his second career start Saturday when the Paladins host Charleston Southern. The freshman appeared in four games last season, taking advantage of the new rule allowing players to participate in up to four games and still redshirt.

Furman head coach Clay Hendrix, who announced the decision at Monday's debut of Furman Football Monday, said that Grainger and backup Hamp Sisson each had great camps. Luke Shiflett, a transfer from Middle Tennessee State who was part of the competition early on, is listed on the opening depth chart as a backup to new starting split end Ryan DeLuca.

"It wasn't anything that Hamp didn't do as much as it was Darren just went out and won the spot," Hendrix said. "In today's day of college football, I doubt you're going to get into the season with only one.
"We told them last week and I was really pleased with how both of them responded. I thought both of them upped their game even more."

Grainger won't be the only freshman starter in the Paladins' offensive backfield. Devin Abrams is the first team running back. Abrams overcame an injury last season to appear in three games, and had 45 yards on 12 carries in Furman's blowout win at VMI. True freshman Wayne Anderson Jr., who shined in the preseason, is listed as starting kick returner.

Another true freshman might start Saturday as Evan Jumper is listed with an "or" designation with returning starter Cole Neely at center on the depth chart. The only other starting position with an "or" is right next door as sophomore Bo McKinney and junior Reed Kroeber are competing to make the start at left guard.

The other new starter on offense is sophomore Ryan Miller at tight end. Junior Jake Walker, who came on strong during Furman's stretch run to the Southern Conference championship last season, continues to get back to 100 percent following an ACL tear in February. Hendrix said Walker is making a remarkable comeback.

"I thought there's no way Jake Walker would be where he's at today (in recovering). I don't think he's missed a practice," Hendrix said. "He's a great example of how the early spring practice has worked well for us."

Furman felt good enough about the tight end position this season to send junior Dillon Vann back over to defense and that change has paid off. It seemed safe to assume that the nation's sack leader in 2018, sophomore Adrian Hope, would step into the starting bandit position following the graduation of Chris Washington. But Vann's emergence there has earned him the starting position.

It gives the Paladins a chance to use Hope as they did last season when he piled up 15 sacks and five forced fumbles in 10 games, all coming off the bench. While Vann is the starter, Hendrix said it might be a 50-50 split between the two and Davonta Porter should see action there as well.

"If you get somebody in an obvious passing situation, you'd love to have Adrian Hope in the game. I also won't mind having Dillon Vann in the game," Hendrix said. "Davonta Porter's there now too and he's played a lot of football for us.
"That's the kind of thing that's made us better. It's a job interview every day out there at practice."

Other new starters on defense include sophomore noseguard Taylor Hodge and junior tackle Landon Lawrence up front, and junior strong safety DiMarcus Clay in the backfield.

Clay is the only non-senior starter in the secondary and spur position. Six of the seven reserves on the two-deep at those five positions are freshmen.

All-American Grayson Atkins will handle the kicking, kickoff and punting duties again this season. Amir Trapp will be the punt returner, and senior Evan Vaughn is set to begin his fourth season at snapper. Third-string quarterback Jack Hardin will be the new holder.

Friday, August 23, 2019

Paladins wrap up productive preseason

Furman senior captain Jordan Willis is part of a deep, experienced
group of spurs and bandits. Photo courtesy of Furman
While the season opener is still eight days away, it's officially "game week" for the Furman football team. The last of 18 preseason practices was held Thursday as the Paladins now transition to more of its in-season mode in preparing for next Saturday's game against Charleston Southern.

In his third preseason of coaching the Paladins, Clay Hendrix said this year's was like "night and day" compared to the either of the first two.

"Last year, it took us about four or five games into the season just to learn how to practice. ... Credit to our coaches, organization-wise. They've coached the heck out of these guys," Hendrix said. "We're an older, more confident group and it's kind of shown in how we've practiced.
"Our guys are in phenomenal shape. (Strength training and conditioning director) Andrew Bernardi and his staff have done a phenomenal job with our guys. We've been pretty healthy too."

Outside of two noon scrimmages, all of Furman's practices this August were held in the morning. While that early start helped beat the heat a bit, by the end of Thursday's two-hour practice it was another brutally hot day. That experience could bode well moving forward though.

"You never know until you get out there and play, but our conditioning is one of the things I feel best about," Hendrix said. "I really like how we had our schedule set up this year. It's allowed us to get all our video watched and lift. We've been able to get two really good lifts every week."
"I feel really good about where we are. We're not totally in game-plan wise, but we've got a majority of it in. We've just got to narrow that down."

Much like Hendrix, Duane Vaughn also noticed the marked improvement in this year's preseason. Vaughn, who's been on the staff the longest but is in his first year as defensive coordinator, is especially excited about experience and depth on his side of the ball.

"Our depth has made for competition on a daily basis. We rolled three groups all the way through today. As we turn our attention to Charleston Southern, we'll start paring it down for the ones and twos," Vaughn said. "I've just been really pleased with how we've come out and competed day in and day out. Going against a really good offense (in practice) only makes us better."

Perhaps nowhere is Furman deeper on defense than at the spur and bandit positions, where a familiar face to the defense has returned.

"We were tickled to death to get Dillon Vann back on our side of the ball. Two years ago, he tied for the team lead in interceptions and then we had a need at tight end last year. As a team player, he moved over," Vaughn said. "Obviously, Adrian (Hope) is coming off a really big year and then we slid Devonta Porter to bandit as well. He's done a really good job.
"We've got a mid-year enrollee in Jalen Miller complimenting Jordan (Willis) at the spur along with Dae'one Wilkins, who both played for us last year. So we've just got a lot of experience at those two positions."

Captains selected
Junior offensive tackle Bo Layton, senior offensive tackle Andy Godwin, senior linebacker Donavan Perryman and Willis, a senior, will serve as team captains this season, as selected by their teammates.

Paladins make top 20
Furman is ranked No. 17 in the preseason FCS Coaches poll, and No. 19 in the preseason STATS (media) FCS poll.

Coaches show begins Monday
"Furman Football Monday with Clay Hendrix" is set to debut in three days. At 11 a.m. each Monday during the football season, Hendrix will discuss the Paladins in a press conference type of setting. The show will be live streamed via the Furman Paladins Facebook page. Furman players will also participate as their schedules allow.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Furman QB battle clears a bit at scrimmage

Furman placekicker Grayson Atkins booted a 60-yard field goal
during Saturday's scrimmage. Photo courtesy of Furman
Entering Furman's preseason camp, it appeared there would be a three-way battle for the starting quarterback position. At Saturday's first scrimmage, it appeared that number is now two. Redshirt freshmen Darren Grainger and Hamp Sisson took the majority of snaps Saturday, while transfer Luke Shiflett saw plenty of action - just not at quarterback.

Shiflett, who joined the Paladins this summer after departing Middle Tennessee State, took all of his snaps Saturday at wide receiver. That's a position he played in all 14 games at MTSU last year. While Shiflett has spent more time at quarterback than receiver over the opening week of preseason practice, Furman coach Clay Hendrix said that will probably flip moving forward.

There's a couple of reasons why. Hendrix said the one position he wishes had more depth at this year is receiver. Secondly, the staff has plenty of confidence in Grainger and Sisson, both of whom have the advantage of being in Furman's system for more than a year. Hendrix said they're also confident in sophomore Jack Hardin as the No. 3 quarterback.

"Luke's one of those guys who, every day, just seems to show up. He could play quarterback for us. I just don't know if he can do it this year," Hendrix said following Saturday's scrimmage. "He's also a guy who's never been under center.
"He's a big, athletic kid who's really bright. ... He's got all those things we're looking for. I have no doubt he's going to help our football team."

Grainger and Sisson kept up their strong preseasons Saturday. Most notably on display was Grainger's arm strength and Sisson's reads on tucking and running the ball. Hendrix said compared to last year, when the duo were competing to fill in for an injured Harris Roberts to start this season, the difference is night and day for both.

"It's not even close. We've been tracking all their numbers. We kind of break it up into 7-on-7 numbers versus team rep numbers and they're within two percentage points of each other through seven practices," Hendrix said. "They've both been really solid."

While the quarterbacks were solid and freshman running back Wayne Anderson Jr. shined, Furman's defense "won the day" for the most part. This was particularly true on third-and-short yardage situational drills as the Paladins front swarmed to the ball time and again, and forced a pair of fumbles. Taylor Hodge and Jonah Tibbs had particularly big hits to stuff runs.

Perhaps the biggest blowup of a Furman run play Saturday was courtesy of its newest defensive lineman, Caleb Auer. Auer, who began his Furman career at tight end before moving to offensive tackle, has switched to the other side of the ball for his senior season.

"I looked at him and said, 'did you hear that call?' ... He just kinda smiled at me," Hendrix said. "We felt really good about our depth on the offensive line. I think if you asked him a long time ago, that's (defense) probably where he wanted to be."

Once situational drills were done, the game scrimmage portion of Saturday's practice consisted of five possessions:

Grainger guided the Paladins down near the red zone on the opening possession. It ended when senior cornerback Amir Trapp made a great read and a leaping interception at the goal line.

Sisson got the next rep and that possession ended on the biggest highlight of the day. Junior placekicker Grayson Atkins attempted a field goal from smack dab in the middle of the diamond F. Atkins' 60-yard attempt went right down the middle of the uprights with quite a few yards to spare.

"It was one of those as soon as he hit it, you knew he hit it good," Hendrix said. "He's got such a strong leg."

Hardin's lone rep resulted in the lone touchdown when Anderson scored on a four-yard run. That play was set up when Shiflett caught a pass in traffic over the middle and raced to the left sideline for about a 17-yard gain.

With the staff already knowing what they have in running backs Corey Watkins and Devin Wynn, they really didn't get in the mix for carries Saturday. Anderson took full advantage of the opportunity to show off his quick feet. While the Paladins' defensive front controlled those short-yardage situations, Anderson routinely popped off 5- to 10-yard runs.

"He really showed up today, but he's shown up all fall," Hendrix said.

Anderson and linebacker Josh Agbenou are "the two (freshmen) who have really stood out," according to Hendrix. Other freshmen that Hendrix expects to "help us" this season are offensive linemen Even Jumper and Pearson Toomey, at least one of safeties' Austin Jones and Hugh Ryan, and at least one of cornerbacks' Kam Brinson and Cally Chizik.

Ryan, who had an interception during situational drills Saturday, is one of three Paladins recovering from mono. He helped Dutch Fork win the last three Class 5A state championships.

"I think we can get him out of the red (limited-contact jersey) next week," Hendrix said. "He's won a bunch of games and he's smart, which is a great combination. You always like having guys that are used to winning."

The fourth possession culminated when Atkins missed a 28-yard field goal before connecting on a do-over from the same spot. The final possession ended with the Paladins around midfield as the scrimmage wrapped up.

Overall, Hendrix felt pretty good about what he saw in the two-hour plus practice on a brutally hot afternoon at Paladin Stadium.

"I was pleased with how we started on defense, but our offense started slow," Hendrix said. "It's a double-edged sword. We created some turnovers, which is something we haven't been great at, but we turned it over a few times (on offense). What I do like is that we (defense) created them. We had a couple of good breaks on balls.
"We got a lot of really good situational work done, which we need. ... I don't think we got anybody dinged up. ... I don't think we've got anybody that's ready to play a football game conditioning-wise. We're in good shape, but it's just a little different when you've got to go play, push on somebody and have somebody push on you."

Friday, August 2, 2019

Donnelly introduced as new Furman AD

One day after being introduced as Furman's new athletic director,
Jason Donnelly addressed the football team following its opening
practice of the season Friday. Photo courtesy of Furman.
When Jason Donnelly was introduced as Furman's new athletic director Thursday morning, he said the No. 1 thing that impressed him so far on his visit was breakfast at Tommy's Country Ham House.

So Donnelly really became a Paladin a couple of hours before he officially became one.

Furman President Elizabeth Davis introduced Donnelly to full crowd in the football team meeting room at the Pearce-Horton Complex. Along with the shout out to the Furman Sports Report's sponsor, Donnelly talked about the excitement he has for his new job.

"I can't begin to tell you how excited my family is to be a part of Furman," Donnelly said. "It's been a life-long dream to have an opportunity to be at an institution with this kind of class and dignity. This is what I've been working for my entire career. I'm so fired up to be here.
"I've come to understand that Furman is unique, not only because it upholds the right values and bounds between academics and athletics, but also because of the people who make up the community."

Donnelly, who will begin his duties at Furman on Aug. 12, had worked at Villanova since 2005. Back then, he served as a men's basketball assistant coach and director of basketball operations on Jay Wright's staff. He was later a special assistant to Wright and helped improve a program that captured NCAA championships in 2016 and 2018.

"Furman is getting a hard-working, loyal visionary as its athletics director," Wright said. "His fundraising, leadership and loyalty to all Villanovans has been vital to Villanova's athletics and academic success."

Donnelly was director of athletics development from 2013-15 before leading the Villanova Athletics Fund. In that capacity, he managed fundraising and external support for all 24 Wildcat athletic teams. Since 2015, he helped the school's athletic department raise more than $120 million. That includes three consecutive record-breaking fundraising years that represented a 330 percent increase in money raised.

Donnelly's arrival comes months after Furman's men's basketball team earned a thrilling overtime win at Villanova, which vaulted the Paladins into the top 25 polls for the first time ever. The women's cross country team also finished one spot ahead of Villanova at the 2018 national championship.

"I think he thought, 'well if you can't beat them, join them,' " Davis said with a smile. "It was important for me to find an AD who understands Furman. One who has a real commitment to the kind of student experience we want our students to have, and that's what I found in Jason Donnelly.
"He was a student-athlete, teacher, coach, administrator and fundraiser. He has all the skills that we need in our athletic director."

Davis said one of the things that stood out in the interview process was Donnelly's questions.

"I know that might sound strange, but questions show a real insight," Davis said. "They can let you know how deeply someone has thought about where they're going to be. They were deep, probing questions.
"It was clear that he had done his homework on Furman and was excited to be a part of the Furman family."

Donnelly praised the work put in by his predecessor, Mike Buddie, who left earlier this summer to become AD at Army. During his four years at Furman, the Paladins won 26 Southern Conference championships and finished 73rd out of 294 Division I schools in the latest Learfield Sports' Directors Cup competition. Buddie also secured several financial donations, signed a multi-year deal with Nike, balanced the athletic department's budget for the first time, and led a charge to bring the NCAA men's basketball tournament back to Greenville.

For Donnelly, a New Jersey native, the Furman job also provided an opportunity to make good on a promise to his family. Donnelly's wife Rachel is a native of Bakersville, N.C. The couple have three children ages three to nine.

"Rachel and I have been married for 15 years now. She's only had one goal in mind the entire time we've been married - to live in a community of faith, friendship and love, and to live in the South," Donnelly said. "For us, this is really important. As a husband, I've finally checked that box for her. I can't wait to be down here, where we're literally two hours door-to-door from family.
"We hope that we're a part of the Furman community for a long, long time. We're excited to be entrenched in a campus culture that embodies our values and everything that we're all about."