Tuesday, August 29, 2023

As season nears, two key Paladins out indefinitely

Furman will open the 2023 season Thursday without injured
All-American Jake Johanning. Photo courtesy of Furman

There were plenty of familiar names listed when Furman's first two-deep depth chart of the 2023 football season was released Monday. Going into Thursday's season opener against Tennessee Tech, the Paladins have one of the most experienced rosters in the FCS. Players returning this year have combined to make 397 career starts.

However, two key contributors that helped Furman go 10-3 and finish 10th in both national polls last season aren't listed. Offensive lineman Jacob Johanning and inside linebacker Bryce McCormick are out indefinitely due to injuries.

Johanning, a second-team All-American last season, suffered a non-football related injury and spent part of preseason camp in a neck brace. McCormick, who was second on the team with 77 tackles last season, hasn't taken part in any football-related activity since suffering a head injury on a routine play during the spring game.

"They just haven't been able to get (McCormick) completely cleared. Right now we're just focused on getting him healthy from what looked like not much of anything. He tackled a guy in the spring game and his head hit the turf," Furman coach Clay Hendrix said Monday. "I don't think it's so much a concussion, but some kind of balance issue. It's almost like a vertigo type of deal. I just hope he can get healthy."

While there's no timetable for Johanning's return, there's more optimism about his status.

"Jake's not going out there and having contact, but he's doing about everything else at practice," Hendrix said. "We feel really good about getting him back soon, but we just have to wait for someone to sign off on it given the patient guidelines. ... If it was an arm (injury), he'd probably already be going.

"He's doing really well and we certainly expect to get him back sooner rather than later. I just can't tell when that's exactly going to be."

While both are obviously key players, Furman's has plenty of proven depth to rely on. That includes many more healthy, experienced offensive linemen than at this time last year. With Evan Jumper moving on as a grad transfer to Coastal Carolina, Johanning was looking to slide from left guard to center. With his injury, it looks like Wyatt Hughes will shift from right guard to center.

"Wyatt Hughes has been one of the more dependable guys we've had, so we will just slide him over to that center spot after Jake had worked there in the spring," Hendrix said. "(Offensive line coach) Matt McCutchan does such a good job of cross training those guys. ... You always feel like you can plug in the next best guy, regardless of position."

E.J. Wilson or Ryan Lamb are set to start at right guard, while Luke Petit will start at left guard. All-Southern Conference selection Pearson Toomey will start at left tackle, while ETSU transfer Fred Norman Jr. is slated to go at right tackle.

Petit missed all of last season due to injury, as did Virginia and Old Dominion transfer Gerrik Vollmer. Hendrix said both would've played last year and both should see plenty of time this season. At 6-foot-7 and 342 pounds, Norman may be the biggest player in program history and he's reunited with McCutchan who was his line coach at ETSU.

"Fred's been a really good addition to our team. He's been a good fit. He's a really bright kid with a great personality," Hendrix said. "He's one of those guys that likes to practice. Having played for Matt, that transition has been much easier for him.

"We're certainly in a lot better position depth-wise (at offensive line). It was about a five-man game last year."

Stepping in for McCormick at the weakside linebacker spot looks to be senior Dan Scianna, who's set to be backed up by senior Nicky Kuzemka. A start Thursday would be the sixth for Scianna, who had 35 tackles last season. Kuzemka has made 17 career starts.

Kickoff Thursday at Paladin Stadium is set for 7 p.m. The game is set to be broadcast on CW Ch. 62 and ESPN+.

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