Thursday, August 31, 2023

Furman to honor Sheridan, 1973 team in opener

Furman will pay homage to the 1973 team with silver helmets in Thursday's season opener. It will
honor the memory of Dick Sheridan with a helmet decal all season. Photo courtesy of Furman

On an opening night in which Furman will honor legendary coach Dick Sheridan, it will also celebrate the 50th anniversary of the iconic Diamond F logo that he's credited with conceptualizing. Prior to Thursday's season opener against Tennessee Tech, the school will also honor the first team to display the iconic logo and the helmets they wore.

Members of the 1973 team will be at Paladin Stadium to serve as honorary captains. After going 2-9 in 1972, new head coach Art Baker guided the 1973 Paladins to a 7-3 record. They were named the most improved team in the country by Sports Illustrated and planted the seeds for what Sheridan later cultivated into the premier football program of the Southern Conference.

Sheridan's coaching career at Furman began in 1973 as an assistant to Baker. Along with his coaching duties that season, Sheridan help spearhead the introduction of new silver helmets emblazoned with the new logo. With the assistance of - and a $25 payment to - then Furman art major Dennis Zeiger, Sheridan's vision came to life. Those helmets were worn from 1973-77. When Sheridan took over as head coach in 1978, the change was made to the white helmets with purple Diamond F that Furman still primarily wears to this day.

"That Diamond F means an awful lot to football here and to me," Furman coach Clay Hendrix said. "I just think it's an iconic logo. Everybody that sees it knows who it is."

On Thursday night, though, it will be a nod to the past as the sixth-ranked Paladins will wear silvery chrome helmets with the Diamond F on one side and the school initials on the other. Furman will also don their all-black uniforms for the only night game of the season.

Honoring Sheridan, who passed away on July 6, will go on well beyond Thursday. All of the Paladins' helmets this season will have a decal on the back with "DS" in the Diamond logo, framed by 1978 and 1985 on either side representing the eight years in which he was head coach. During those eight seasons, Furman went 69-23-2, won six SoCon championships and played for the 1985 Division I-AA (now FCS) national championship.

"He meant everything to this program and he certainly meant a lot to me. I just think what he did here was pretty remarkable," said Hendrix, who played for Sheridan from 1982-85 before joining his coaching staff at N.C. State. "If you look at the history of this place prior to him coming here. They joined the league (SoCon) in 1936 and through 1977 had never won a conference championship. Then to win six of eight.

"He was just a really unique guy. At the end of the day, he had the ability to get people to play better than they were. He just showed excellence in everything he ever did. I certainly still try to do a lot of things like he did them."

As part of celebrating his legacy, 5,000 replica Dick Sheridan decals will be given away to fans upon entering the stadium for Thursday's 7 p.m. kickoff.

Replacing Miller

While Furman has one of the most experienced teams in the FCS this season, there's one loss from last season that should make for a decidedly different look this season. There's really no replacing a three-time All-American like Ryan Miller, who's now a receiver on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' practice squad.

However, Hendrix has confidence in the Paladins' tight end group. They're probably going to have a more traditional look than the numerous Miller's talents were utilized. When it comes to traditional tight end looks, Furman has a pretty good track record. The Paladins have had 32 All-SoCon tight ends since 1977.

"You're not going to ask them to do some of the things Ryan was asked to do, but you're also going to ask them to do some things you wouldn't ask Ryan to do," Hendrix said. "We're going to use two tight end (sets) a good bit."

The tight ends won't be hard to miss as they're huge. Parks Gissinger, a Michigan State transfer who played in every game and made three starts last season for the Paladins, is 6-foot-4 and 240 pounds. Mason Pline, a transfer grad who helped Ferris State win each of the last two Division II national championships, is 6-foot-7 and 260 pounds. Gissinger and Pline are listed with the "or" designation as the starting tight end on the depth chart.

The emphasis on size at the tight end spot also showed up in recruiting as Furman's two incoming freshmen at the position are Brock Chappell (6-5, 240) and Brennan Tormey (6-7, 221).

Harris ready to step up

Despite the loss of Miller, Furman has plenty of offensive weapons returning. One who's poised to step up is junior receiver Joshua Harris. Harris, who had 48 receptions for 667 yards and five touchdowns last season, says his first full offseason working with quarterback Tyler Huff has paid off.

"We worked tremendously hard over the offseason, trying to get timing down. (working on) deep routes, underneath routes," Harris said. "That's the same with all the other receivers though. We were all out here after a lift or on a Saturday or Sunday just getting extra work in to build that team chemistry.

"I'd say the difference between this preseason and last preseason is that Tyler's confidence and leadership has grown a lot. ... He's a very easy guy to get along and he connects with guys because he's the same person on and off the field."

Harris said Miller was more than a great player. He was also a great mentor and that's another role Harris has tried to step up in.

"Ryan was a heck of a player, who I looked up to when I first came in," Harris said. "The leadership role and the stuff he brought to us, I learned from him and I try to incorporate it into other people on the team."

Freshmen to watch

Furman is a team loaded with veteran experience, but that doesn't mean that younger guys can't contribute. Hendrix revealed that there are a few true freshmen who his staff simply won't be able to keep off the field this year, including safety AK Burrell, wide receiver Colton Hinton and one of the new tight ends.

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