Thursday, December 19, 2019

Early signing day results in 13 new Paladins

Furman coach Clay Hendrix
Photo courtesy of Furman
In the third year of the NCAA's new early National Signing Day, Furman posted its largest class yet. A total of 13 high school seniors from six different states signed with the Paladins Wednesday.

A focus this year was the interior as Furman signed five linemen - three on offense and two on defense. All three offensive linemen had multiple offers from FBS programs. No signee had more Division I offers than the 17 collected by E.J. Wilson (6-foot-4, 280 pounds), of Xenia, Ohio, whose list included Colorado State, Air Force and Navy. Wilson, who played on both sides of the ball, made 31 career starts at left tackle.

Dylan Davis (6-4, 270), of Bradenton, Fla., chose Furman over offers from Illinois and Iowa State. Davis played center, offensive guard and defensive tackle at St. Stephen's Episcopal School, which went 40-4 in Davis' 44 career starts. He was a two-time all-state football selection who also plays basketball, track and wrestling.

While the Paladins trip to Austin Peay in the playoffs didn't go so well, they did land an offensive lineman from Clarksville, Tennessee in Blake Hundley. Hundley (6-3, 275) had offers from Kansas, Kentucky and South Carolina before choosing Furman, even though the Paladins joined his offer mix late in the process.

"We're really excited about that group," Furman coach Clay Hendrix said. "After three years, we finally feel like we're where we need to be (at the offensive line position)."

On the other side of the line, Furman signed Seth Johnson, of Chattanooga, Tenn., and Jeremiah Jackson, of Fleming Island, Fla. Johnson (6-2, 280) had 15 other offers and played virtually every position along the offensive and defensive lines, as well as tight end, at Baylor School. His brother plays football at Chattanooga, where his father also played and where his mother ran track. Johnson's father also played for the Chicago Bears.

Jackson (6-0, 250) played fullback, linebacker, defensive tackle and defensive end at Fleming Island High, a Class 7A program. This season, Jackson had 80 tackles, including 20 for loss with 13 sacks as his team went 10-1. Jackson qualified for the state weightlifting meet in the clean and jerk, and bench press as a junior.

"Defensive end has been a position we've been very average at, so we're excited (to sign Jackson). ... If he was a 6-2 guy, we probably couldn't have got him," Hendrix said. "We're going to move Josh Agbenou to defensive end this spring and we've got Jack Barton, who we really like there too."

The lone other signee on offense is running back Kendall Thomas, of Round Rock, Texas. Thomas (5-9, 175) played running back, quarterback, receiver and return specialist during his career at Class 6A Stony Point, where he also ran track. This season, he rushed for 2,247 yards and 25 touchdowns and averaged 204.2 yards per game and 10.2 yards per carry.

Thomas' signing comes a year after the signing of Prosper, Texas running back Wayne Anderson, who rushed for 305 yards and averaged 7.4 yards a carry this season for the Paladins.

"I don't know if we have a pipeline (to Texas), but Wayne Anderson has turned out to be a great signing," Hendrix said. "(Assistant coach) Peter Lusk has done a great job recruiting that area and I certainly wouldn't mind signing one (running back) a year from there."

In addition to the two defensive linemen, Furman also signed two inside linebackers, two cornerbacks and two safeties.

Evan DiMaggio (6-3, 225) is an inside linebacker from Buford, Ga., who had 14 offers including ones from UCF, Cincinnati and Colorado State. He was the leading tackler on a Buford High team that went 14-1 and won the Georgia Class 5A state championship. DiMaggio has a 43-9 record as a wrestler and was the 2019 state runner-up in the 220-pound weight class.

Inside linebacker Ty Youngblood (6-0, 215) chose the Paladins over offers from Army, Air Force and Navy. Youngblood's Greeneville (Tenn.) High team went 10-3 this season after going 15-0 each of the previous two seasons that were capped by Tennessee Class 4A state title victories. Youngblood is a two-time all-state track performer in the 110m hurdles.

"DiMaggio was a guy who had so many offers, to be honest with you, at first I might've wondered why we were wasting time with him. He committed early, comes from a great family and they stuck with us," Hendrix said. "Between him and Youngblood, they can really run and love to play. It'd be interesting to see what their teams record was the last three years. They didn't lose many games."

In the secondary, Furman has added cornerbacks Micah Robinson (5-11, 170) and Ivan Yates (5-11, 175). Robinson, of Atlanta, was a team captain at Class 7A Westlake High this season and led his team in interceptions each of the last two years finishing with eight in his career. Among his 12 offers was one from Air Force. Yates of Roswell, Ga., had 17 offers including ones from SMU and Air Force. He helped Roswell High go 8-3 and win the Region 4 title in Class 7A this season.

"They're both really long," Hendrix said.

Safeties Jack Rhodes (6-1, 185) and Caden Richards (6-1, 185) are the only members of Wednesday's signees who will be enrolling at Furman in January and thus be able to participate in spring practice in February.

Rhodes had 14 Division I offers, including one from Air Force. He played six different positions during his career at Milton (Ga.) High and helped his team go 13-2 and capture the Georgia Class 7A state championship as a junior. Rhodes had 233 tackles, including 22 for loss, seven interceptions, five fumble recoveries and three sacks in his career.

Richards, who chose the Paladins over an offer from Army, is a hard-hitter from Gaffney High who served as team captain each of the last two years. The Indians went 11-2 in 2018 and 10-4 this year. He had 105 tackles, four interceptions, four fumble recoveries and 10 pass breakups in his career. Richards' father played football at Wofford.

"It will be nice to have those guys in here competing early. Richards may be a guy we can move around, maybe to the spur," Hendrix said. "With Austin Jones, who would've played this year if he had not gotten hurt, and Hugh Ryan back there, we feel good about these last two classes of safeties."

The final signee Wednesday was punter Ryan Leavy (6-1, 175) out of Berkley High in Tampa, Fla. He was a second team all-state honoree in 2018 and has also had a standout baseball career. Leavy's uncle, Dave Moore, played 15 seasons in the NFL and made the 2009 Pro Bowl.

All-American kicker/punter Grayson Atkins has entered the transfer portal as a graduate transfer, but has not ruled out returning to Furman. Even if Atkins returns, Hendrix said the Paladins would be interested in having someone take over the punting duties to lighten Atkins' load.

When the traditional signing day of the first Wednesday in February arrives, Hendrix said Furman plans to sign four or five more to complete this recruiting class. He said the Paladins would like to sign a kicker, a couple of receivers, maybe another defensive lineman and possibly a quarterback.

"We've got some solid players (at wide receiver), but that's a position we've got to get better at through recruiting. We need to get a little more dynamic there," Hendrix said. "We just couldn't get one we thought we had in the early signing period, but we've got some good candidates."

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