Friday, December 1, 2023

Furman football racks up SoCon, national honors

Jake Johanning (55), seen here celebrating with Bryce Stanfield (97) after Furman's
win at Chattanooga this season, is the SoCon's Jacobs Blocking Trophy winner.

While the Furman football team has been solely focused on Chattanooga this week, I wanted to take a look back at postseason honors for the Paladins that were announced just before Thanksgiving. Unfortunately, I did not have the free time available to write about them last week. I plan to have a full preview of Furman's playoff rematch with Chattanooga posted here Saturday morning.

After the Paladins' stunning upset loss at Wofford in the regular season finale, Furman coach Clay Hendrix said while it was obviously disappointing, it didn't diminish anything the Southern Conference champions accomplished this season. During the week that followed, Hendrix was proven right.

The following day, a large crowd of players, coaches and fans packed into the Younts Conference Center to watch the FCS Playoff selection show. While the loss cost the Paladins (9-2) a high seed, the crowd roared in approval when Furman was revealed as the No. 7 seed.

The day after the playoff field was set, Hendrix was announced as one of 20 finalists for the Eddie Robinson Award, which is annually presented to the top coach in the FCS. The next day, a school-record total of 19 Paladins earned All-Southern Conference honors while Tyler Huff, Jacob Johanning, Carson Jones and Hendrix won SoCon awards.

The day after that, long snapper Julian Ashby was announced as one of the 15 finalists for the Doris Robinson Scholar-Athlete Award, which was annually awarded to the top scholar-athlete in the FCS. Furman spent the rest of the week enjoying Thanksgiving and the Saturday off thanks to being one of the eight seeds.

Huff was named SoCon Offensive Player of the Year by the league's coaches. That feat is especially impressive considering that two other SoCon quarterbacks - Western Carolina's Cole Gonzales and Samford's Michael Hiers - are among the 30 finalists for the Walter Payton Award, which is annually given to the top offensive player in the FCS.

"Tyler basically played in eight games and the coaches thought he was player of the year. That kind of tells you what they think of him," said Hendrix, who was a consensus pick as SoCon Coach of the Year for the second time in his career. "We're certainly a better team with him on it, so we're excited to have him back (healthy). xxx."

Huff has thrown for 1,489 yards, nine touchdowns and four interceptions, and rushed for 488 yards and five scores this season. He missed the final two games of the regular season after injuring his shoulder against Chattanooga. The only stat that seems to matter for coaches are wins and losses and Huff is 13-0 as a starter against SoCon competition the past two seasons.

"I get too much credit for that. All these guys were here and the coaches were here. They just needed someone to facilitate a little bit," said Huff. "There's a reason everybody stuck around this season, because they knew they could do it. I was just one more little piece of it."

Another Paladin who claimed an award despite not playing a full season was Johanning, who earned the SoCon's Jacobs Blocking Trophy. A Furman player has now won this award, which is presented to the SoCon's best blocker, a league-record 16 times. After suffering a neck injury this past summer, Johanning didn't play until week four this season. His return made an immediate impact as the Paladins enjoyed one of their best offensive days of the season in a 38-14 win over Mercer.

As a former Furman offensive lineman and longtime offensive line coach, the award probably takes on a more special meaning for Hendrix.

"I think Jake's been the best lineman in our league for several years," Hendrix said. "I think it speaks volumes for the job (offensive line coach) Matt McCutchan has done and the job (offensive coordinator) Coach (Justin) Roper has done."

Jones was selected as SoCon Co-Freshman of the Year by the coaches. This honor came after coming off the bench in relief of Huff and throwing two touchdowns in the fourth quarter of Furman's 17-14 win. He followed that up by throwing four touchdown passes in the first half of his first collegiate start in the Paladins' 37-3 win over VMI.

Besides Huff and Johanning, other All-SoCon performers on offense for Furman were linemen Pearson Toomey and Wyatt Hughes, running back Dominic Roberto and tight end Mason Pline. Representing the SoCon's best defense were linemen Matt Sochovka, Luke Clark and Jack Barton, linebacker Braden Gilby, and defensive backs Travis Blackshear, Cally Chizik and Hugh Ryan. Placekicker Ian Williams and return specialist Wayne Anderson made the All-SoCon special teams units. Carson was joined by tight end Brock Chappell, wide receiver Colton Hinton and defensive back A.K. Burrell on the All-Freshman team.

"To get the number of guys on defense that made that team, we take a lot of pride in that," Hendrix said. "It's a little tougher defensively to have the numbers other guys have because of the number of people that we play. That's great for them.

"One of the things I tell our guys is that if you want to be one of those All-SoCon players, usually the best thing that helps you is to be on a really good team. They're on a conference championship team."

The winner of the Doris Robinson Scholar-Athlete Award, which named in honor of the wife of Grambling coaching legend Eddie Robinson, will be announced on Dec. 12. Ashby, a senior physics major with a 3.97 GPA, has handled been Furman's snapper for PATs, field goals and punts for each of the last four seasons. He's successfully executed 389 snaps while working with a pair of All-SoCon punters and an all-conference placekicker.

The winner of the Eddie Robinson Award will be announced Dec. 7. Hendrix is trying to become the fourth Furman coach to collect the honor joining Dick Sheridan (1985), Jimmy Satterfield (1988) and Bobby Johnson (2001).

"It's been nice to kind of recharge our batteries, but we've put all that behind us," Hendrix said. "Let's go see what we can do this Saturday."

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