|Furman redshirt freshman Darren Grainger (4) has won the
starting quarterback competition. Photo courtesy of Furman
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.