|Furman's Wayne Anderson Jr. has a new position (receiver) and a new number (9) this season. Coach|
Clay Hendrix believes Anderson is the fastest player on the team. Photo courtesy of Furman
There have been quite a few times that three receivers took the field for the opening play of a Furman football game this century. If I recall correctly, there may have been at least one instance of four. But when the Paladins' season-opening depth chart was released this week, it was still an eye opener to see a starting lineup that included three receivers and only one running back.
Furman coach Clay Hendrix said there will still be plenty of two back sets this year, including Thursday at 7 p.m. when the Paladins open the 2022 season by hosting North Greenville. Hendrix is excited about all the playmakers that new offensive coordinator Jordan Roper is set to utilize at both positions.
Two of the starting receiver spots belong to 2021 Southern Conference All-Freshman team member Joshua Harris and former running back Wayne Anderson. The third spot will see either old Middle Tennessee State transfer Luke Shiflett or new James Madison grad transfer Kyndel Dean start.
"We moved Wayne out to slot and he's done really well out there. Some may argue but if you're asking me, I think Wayne's the fastest guy on our team," Hendrix said. "Shiflet and Dean are listed as 'or' as the starter on the depth chart, but it really doesn't matter who's out there first. They're both going to play a ton."
Starting at running back will be junior Dominic Roberto, who shined in the second half of last season. After only rushing for 56 yards in limited action over the first five games, Roberto finished with a team-high 709 yards rushing and six touchdowns - all of which were scored over the final five games. Roberto, who's lost 11 pounds since last season to add more speed to his bruising physique, averaged 8.26 yards per carry over those last five games. That helped him break the record for yards per carry in a season at 7.4, topping the previous mark of 7.3 set by Robbie Gardner in 1984.
Backing up Roberto will be senior captain Devin Abrams, who has 29 career starts under his belt. Abrams will join Roberto in the backfield at times, as will a plethora of younger backs.
"We're not doing a ton of two-back, but we will still do some because those are some of our better players," Hendrix said. "You've got those two (Roberto and Abrams) and (redshirt freshman) Myion Hicks and Grant Robinson, who was slowed most of August with an ankle injury. He's just gotten back in the last week.
"And (sophomore) Kendall Thomas had a great August. He was maybe the most improved guy and has big-play stuff. But he got rolled up last week and he's probably 80 percent right now. I don't know it he will be able to go this week or not."
The different offensive sets that Furman uses this season could also allow All-American tight end Ryan Miller to be a weapon in different spots.
Defensive depth chart runs deep
On the other side of the ball, a handful of Paladins should make their first collegiate starts Thursday. Those include sophomores Jeremiah Jackson and Luke Clark, who are slated to start at defensive end and bandit, respectively.
Redshirt freshman Amaah Achina is set to get his first start at the spur. Sophomore Evan DiMaggio, great nephew of Joltin' Joe, will either make his first start at middle linebacker or junior Dan Scianna will make his third.
"Achina's going to start ahead of Jalen Miller, who missed some time with an ankle injury but he's back now," Hendrix said.
The most experienced part of a deep defensive unit is Furman's secondary, where every member of the two-deep has made at least one career start. Starting at cornerback should be Travis Blackshear and Micah Robinson, while Kam Brinson and Hugh Ryan should man the starting safety spots. Dae'one Wilkins, who's made 13 career starts at the spur, is set to backup Brinson at strong safety.
There's going to be so much rotation on the defensive side of the ball, it may not be completely accurate to refer to anyone on the second string as a "backup" though.
"We play so many guys on defense I feel like we can play two-deep out there," Hendrix said. "It's almost a 1a and 1b situation in some spots."