Friday, September 3, 2021

At long last, Paladins' McKoy ready to roll

After missing last season with an injury, Furman captain Elijah McKoy
is healthy and raring to go this season. Photo courtesy of Furman

When Furman opens the season Saturday by hosting No. 25 North Carolina A&T it will be a battle of one team that will have last played 147 days ago against a team that will have last played 623 days ago. While the Paladins went 3-4 in the Southern Conference's spring season that was postponed from the fall, the Aggies opted out of the 2020 season entirely.

There are a few Furman players who will be back for the first time since 2019 as well. Co-captain Elijah McKoy, sophomore right tackle Pearson Toomey and wide receiver turned quarterback Luke Shiflett each missed the spring season.

"It's been two years since I've had a real camp, so it's really exciting to back," McKoy said following an early fall practice. "I worked all summer and training-wise, I was doing stuff better than I was before I hurt my knee. So I knew it was going to come back right, it was just the mental thing of overcoming that hurdle of being out on the field."

McKoy said it was an honor to be elected a team captain for the second consecutive season. After only being able to lead with his words last season, he's ready to go make a physical difference this season.

"We were really close to being a really good team in the spring. We just had a few plays here and there that we missed. It was especially frustrating knowing that I couldn't get out there and help," McKoy said. "Hopefully we can recover from the spring and have a really good season this year because we have all the tools."

McKoy, who has 236 career tackles, is the backup to Adrian Hope at the bandit position in this week's depth chart. He should see plenty of action through the defensive rotations though.

Furman coach Clay Hendrix said Toomey has a tremendous preseason. He's slated to start at right tackle.

"Based on August practice, our best lineman may be Pearson Toomey," Hendrix said. "We thought he'd be a starter in the spring, but he hurt his labrum in fall practice and never got back."

Shiflett, who transferred in from Middle Tennessee State in 2019, shifted from receiver to quarterback this preseason. He'd been getting some reps at each position in practice, but stuck at quarterback after Colt Minson left school for personal reasons. Minson had transferred in this summer from Charlotte. Shiflett is third on the depth chart behind starter Hamp Sisson and freshman Jace Wilson. Wilson and Shiflett each missed about a week of fall camp.

New starters
Toomey will be lining up alongside some relative newcomers when it comes to starting up front. Right guard Clark Daniel will be making his third career start at Furman after two in the spring. Daniel was Hendrix's final recruit at Air Force, where he transferred from in 2019.

At center, freshman Wyatt Hughes is slated to make his first career start after appearing in two games in the spring. Sophomore Evan Jumper, who's made 16 career starts, will see action on Saturday. He was limited in fall practice as he was out with an illness for 10 days and just returned to the team on Tuesday.

Sophomore left guard Jacob Johanning looks to make his eighth career start on Saturday, and it will be the sixth career start for junior left tackle Anderson Tomlin. 

"Wyatt Hughes has had a great camp ... and the plan is to play two guys there anyway. We moved (freshman center) Ryan Lamb to guard last week, just to get him some more reps," Hendrix said. "Anderson Tomlin's had a really good camp and I thought he had a really good year (in the spring). We lost him in the Chattanooga game for the rest of the season. So we really didn't have either of those tackles down the stretch.
"We will play about eight offensive linemen. I really like that group we've got. Their mindset's a little bit different."

Dominic Roberto is set to make his first career start at the running back position, with Devin Abrams - who has 19 career starts - backing him up. Hendrix said both will see plenty of action though, as should tailbacks Devin Wynn, Wayne Anderson and Kendall Thomas.

The lone new starter on defense looks to be freshman Ivan Yates, who will take over at a cornerback spot in place of graduated Darius Kearse.

Payton Award hopefuls square off
Saturday's first game between Furman and North Carolina A&T will feature two of the 13 running backs among 35 total players on the Walter Payton Award watchlist. The Payton Award is annually presented to the top offensive player in the FCS.

Wynn enters this season ranked ninth in school history in rushing yards (2,468) and 10th in touchdowns (25). He’s averaged 5.9 yards per carry in his career.

In 2019, the Aggies' Jah-Maine Martin was a Payton Award finalist after he broke single season school records for rushing touchdowns (23) and yards per carry (7.7). Martin piled up 1,446 yards rushing in A&T's 12 games and had nine touchdown runs of more than 50 yards.

"I think Devin's down about 10 pounds maybe from the spring. ... I think he's in the best shape of his life and we expect him to have a big year," Hendrix said. "Their kid has been highly productive in his career, so you've got two really good backs going at it. ... This is good group we're playing against. They're talented, big and athletic."

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