|Furman wide receiver Ryan DeLuca (83) is the lone rising senior at a
position that's gotten deeper this offseason. Photo courtesy of Furman
A little more than two months later, depth at that position has done a 180. While the Paladins signed no receivers in the the first signing day period back in December, they added one via transfer in January and added two more on Wednesday's traditional signing day.
Noah Henderson, a 6-foot-1, 195-pound Nashville native, transferred in from Charlotte. As a freshman last season, he appeared in all 12 games for the 49ers and caught eight passes for 65 yards. Henderson played for Furman Hall of Famer Ingle Martin at Christ (Tenn.) Presbyterian Academy in high school and was a first-team all-state performer. He caught 72 passes for 1,215 yards and 11 touchdowns there in 2018 to help his team go 14-0 and capture the Division II-2A state championship.
Henderson evidently started a trend of Tennessee receivers joining the program as Knoxville natives Kelton Gunn (5-10, 170) and Bailor Hughes (5-11, 203) signed on Wednesday. At Class 6A Hardin Valley, Gunn was a running back and rushed for more than 1,000 yards last season. Hughes did a little bit of everything at Class 5A Powell High, where he was a team captain each of the last three seasons and where he also ran the 100m and 400m in track. In his football career, Hughes had 1,275 rushing yards, 1,113 receiving yards, 68 tackles, nine interceptions and 26 touchdowns.
"Going into this recruiting class, receiver was one of the top priorities and I think it came out as a great strength really," Furman coach Clay Hendrix said. "We're really pleased with how that turned out. Bailor Hughes and Kelton Gunn bring a little different dimension, and Henderson is a big, fast kid.
"We may see a few more three-wide receiver sets on the field. We haven't had enough guys to do those."
In addition to the newest Paladins, the receiver position will have the return of senior Ryan DeLuca, who's caught four touchdowns each of the past two seasons. Dejuan Bell and Luke Shiflett, who each redshirted in 2019, also return.
"Luke's going to be a little limited this spring coming back from the (torn) labrum," Hendrix said. "He's going to be going through things, but he's not going to be out there getting tackled.
"Last August, I remember telling (receivers coach) Brian (Bratton), 'let's don't kill Thomas Gordon,' by just wearing him out because we didn't have the numbers. I'm pretty excited about that group now with who we have and who we've got coming in."
Furman had two more signees on Wednesday in defensive end Luke Clark (6-3, 224), of Louisville, and long snapper Julian Ashby (6-2, 185), of Lilburn, Ga. Clark had 99 tackles, including 28 for loss and 12 sacks to help South Oldham (Ky.) High go 11-2. At the first signing day in December, Hendrix said he'd like to sign another defensive lineman and landing Clark also helps expand the Paladins' recruiting footprint.
Ashby, who scored 1530 on the SAT, handled snapping duties for 39 games at Parkview (Ga.) High and chose Furman over Duke. He could fill a void immediately following the graduation of four-year starter Evan Vaughn.
"Along with the 13 guys we signed early, I feel like we addressed our needs. ... Our staff did a great job. Depth-wise, we're in as good as a position as we've been in since I've been here," Hendrix said. "We had a lot of guys that had a lot of opportunities (to sign) at a lot of great schools. ... I think the strength of our school and strength and tradition of our football program helped us win out.
"We've finally got this thing to where we've got manageable numbers each year. If we we can stay in that 15-17 range in a class, that's ideal for us. We don't want to be replacing 24 guys. That's a real challenge to find that many kids that can play and do the academics here."
Spring practice set to begin
This year's spring practice schedule opens Saturday at 8 a.m. at Paladin Stadium. There will be a total of 15 practices, with the annual Purple-White scrimmage tentatively scheduled for Feb. 29 at noon.
Spring practice was slightly delayed as the coaching staff was shuffled following the departures of cornerbacks coach Rod Ojong to Georgia, and defensive line coach Josh Miller to Coastal Carolina. On Friday, Chad Byers was announced as Furman's new outside linebackers coach while Clay Mazza was introduced as the new director of football operations.
Byers was a graduate assistant linebackers coach at Marshall last season and was a defensive quality control coach at Furman in 2015. Mazza has spent the past five seasons at Stetson, where he coached tight ends and special teams as was director of football operations the past two years.
"(Former safeties coach) Corico Wright's going to take over the whole secondary now and (defensive coordinator) Duane (Vaughn) is going to move back and help a little bit back there," Hendrix said. "He can help wherever needed."
The hiring of a new defensive line coach should be officially announced in the coming weeks.