Wednesday, August 31, 2022

Furman's offensive depth chart has new look

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."

Starting kicker job still up for grabs

One of the only starting battles still undecided as of Sunday was at place kicker. Sophomore Axel Lepvreau, who's handled kickoffs each of the last two seasons, and N.C. State transfer Ian Williams, who will handle kickoffs this season, are competing for it.

"We've tracked them all summer in team settings. One of them was 41-of-58 and one was 38-of-57," Hendrix said Sunday. "Williams ended today's practice by making a 58-yarder. He has the stronger leg, so I'm hoping he can be a weapon from a kickoff standpoint. He's got the ability to be a significant touchback guy."

It could end up being a platoon situation with Lepvreau attempting shorter field goals and Williams trying them from around 40 yards out and beyond.

New duds for season opener

In addition to new looks on offense, there will be a new look for the entire team for Thursday's "FU After Dark" game theme. For the first time in more than 50 years, Furman will wear purple helmets. The matte helmets will feature the iconic "Diamond F" logo on one side and player numbers on the other.

Additionally, a new black uniform will debut Thursday featuring purple numbers outlined in white. It will be Furman's first ode to Johnny Cash since last wearing black in 2016. Fans of Furman's traditional purple-and-white and all-white uniforms, inarguably the best looking threads in sports, need not worry. Those uniforms will still be around.

"Might we wear the new ones again this year? I don't know. I just know we're wearing them Thursday," Hendrix said. "We had some generous benefactors that wanted to do it, so we came up with a plan and I'm really pleased how it turned out. I still think it's a pretty classic look when you see it all together.
"I told them it won't make one block or one tackle for us, but our kids are really fired up about it. Who knows? Maybe it will get us a recruit or two."

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