2022 Furman Football Preview

STEALTH MODE

A glance at Paladin football history:

Season: 117

All-time record: 625-493-38

First Season: 1889

SoCon Titles: (14)–1978, ’80, ’81, ’82, ’83, ’85, ’88, ’89, ’90, ’99, ’01, ’04, ’13, ’18)/***Most by any current or former SoCon member

FCS (formerly Division I-AA) National Titles: (1) 1988

FCS Playoff Appearances: 18

Last FCS Playoff Appearance: 2019

Result: Austin Peay 42, Furman 6

All-Time FCS Playoff Record: 20-18

Facility: Paladin Stadium (14,518/opened in 1981)

All-time record at Paladin Stadium: 178-63-1

The 117th edition of Furman Football at a glance:

Head Coach: Clay Hendrix (31-25/6th season)

2021 Record: 6-5, 4-4 SoCon/tied for 4th

Media Projection: 4th in SoCon

Coaches Projection: 4th in SoCon

Returning starters: (15/8-offense, 7-defense)

Basic Offense: Multiple

Basic Defense: 3-4

Offensive Returning Starters (8): TE Ryan Miller, RB Devin Abrams, WR Joshua Harris, C Evan Jumper, OT Anderson Tomlin, OT Pearson Toomey, QB Jace Wilson, OG Jacob Johanning

Other Offensive Players Returning With Starting Experience (4): RB Dominic Roberto, WR/RB Wayne Anderson Jr., WR Noah Henderson, and OG Wyatt Hughes

Defensive Returning Starters (7): CB Travis Blackshear, NT Cameron Coleman, LB Braden Gilby, CB Micah Robinson, FS Hugh Ryan, LB Nicky Kuzemka, SPUR Dae’One Wilkins

Other Defensive Players Returning With Starting Experience (8): DT Matt Sochovka, CB Dominic Morris, CB Ivan Yates, ILB Dan Scianaa, FS Jack Rhodes, CB Cally Chizik, ILB Jalen Miller, SS Kam Brinson

Acquisitions via the transfer portal (7): WR Kyndel Dean (James Madison), OLB Emmanuel Adebayo (Northern Colorado), NG Xavier Stephens (Lehigh), QB Tyler Huff (Presbyterian), OL Gerrik Vollmer (Old Dominion/Virginia), TE Parks Gissinger (Michigan State), PK/P Ian Williams (NC State)

Preseason Accolades: Ryan Miller (1st team All-SoCon/2nd Team STATS FCS All-American, Walter Payton Award Watch List), Anderson Tomlin (1st team All-SoCon/2nd Team STATS FCS All-American); Pearson Toomey 1st Team All-SoCon); (Travis Blackshear (1st Team All-SoCon); Dominic Roberto (2nd Team All-SoCon)

2022 Schedule

Date. Opponent Series Time How to Watch

Sept. 1 vs. North Greenville 1st meeting. 7 p.m. EST ESPN+

Sept. 10 at Clemson Clemson leads 43-10-4. 3:30 p.m. EST ACC Net

Sept. 17. *at East Tenn. St Furman leads 27-9 7:30 p.m. EST. ESPN+/3

Sept. 24. at Charleston Southern Furman leads 1-0 12 p.m. EST TBA

Oct. 1 *vs. Samford Furman leads 13-11 2 p.m. EST ESPN+/3

Oct. 8 *at The Citadel Furman leads 61-37-3 2 p.m. EST ESPN+/3

Oct. 15 *vs Western Carolina Furman leads 34-13-2 2 p.m. EST ESPN+/3

Oct. 22 *at VMI Furman leads 29-10 1:30 p.m. EST ESPN+/3

Oct. 29 *vs Chattanooga Furman leads 30-21 2 p.m. EST ESPN+/3

Nov. 12 *at Mercer Furman leads 10-8-2 3 p.m. EST ESPN+/3

Nov. 19 *vs. Wofford Furman leads 55-33-7 1 p.m. EST ESPN+/3

Nov. 26 ————————-Opening Round of FCS Playoffs———————————

Overview: Coming off a 6-5 campaign, which saw Furman finish tied for fourth in the Southern Conference standings a year ago, the Paladins head into 2022 a consensus fourth-place pick in the preseason Southern Conference polls.

Clay Hendrix (31-25) heads into his sixth season as head coach of the Paladins, and had to end up replacing his offensive coordinator–George Quarles–who is now the new head coach of the East Tennessee State Buccaneers and Hendrix settled on bringing in former Holy Cross offensive coordinator Justin Roper, who will make some tweaks to the Furman offensive scheme this fall, as the Paladins would seemingly get better on that side of the football over the latter half of the 2021 season.

Roper isn’t the lone newcomer to the coaching staff, as the Paladins were forced to replace another coach along their offensive staff, when Brian Bratton (co-offensive coordinator/special teams coach) was hired to the offensive staff of the Indianapolis Colts.

The Paladins made a couple of additions to the staff to help compensate for the loss of Bratton, bringing in former longtime Presbyterian head coach Tommy Spangler was brought in to assume the title of special teams coordinator.

Furman added a new receiver’s coach, bringing in Drew Dudzik from East Carolina following Bratton’s departure for Indianapolis.

Dudzik, who was a former quarterback at James Madison and as a player at the FCS level, will surely be remembered for leading to JMU to one of its signature moments as a football program in 2010, as he helped lead the Dukes to that magical, 21-16, win over No. 11 Virginia Tech in flood-like conditions at Lane Stadium in Blacksburg.

Dudzik spent the past two seasons serving in the same role of wide receivers coach at East Carolina, and even served as the position coach for former Paladin transfer wideout Cam Burnette at ECU.

The final addition to the Paladin coaching staff during the offseason came at offensive line coach, where Dru Duke, who was in charge of the Paladin offensive line during the 2021 season, left to join Quarles in the same role at East Tennessee State.

With Duke’s departure for Johnson City, it was ETSU that Hendrix looked to for his replacement, bringing in the Bucs’ most-recent offensive line coach from the previous staff under Randy Sanders, in Matt McCutchan, who was instrumental in helping the Bucs to win 11 games last season, powered by a pair of 1,000-yard rushers in the ETSU backfield, in both Quay Holmes and Jacob Saylors both cross the 1,000-yard plateau this past season en route to an outright Southern Conference regular-season title.

While there were some strengths on offense and defense last season, the Paladins lacked the kind of consistency needed to win a league title or challenge for an FCS playoff spot.

Much of that had to do with the fact the Paladins were transitioning at the quarterback position, with Hamp Sisson now having moved on to pursue other academic interests, and with Jace Wilson now having gotten his true freshman season out of the way, things are a little more defined offensively.

Furman is in as good a position as it has been since 2017 under center, with two viable options under center like it had in Clay Hendrix’s first season on the job, as the Paladins had both P.J. Blazejowski and Harris Roberts as two experienced, and veteran signal-callers to rely.

With the senior Blazejowski and junior Roberts, the Paladins went on to claim an opening round, 28-27, win over Elon before their season came to an end a week later in Spartanburg with a 27-10 loss to SoCon regular-season champion Wofford.

On the defensive side of the football last fall, the Paladins were pretty solid throughout the season, but were not good on third-and-long, and other maybe the East Tennessee State game, struggled to effectively get pressure on opposing quarterbacks last fall, and that proved costly against some of the league’s better signal-caller’s, such as Mercer’s Fred Payton, or Western Carolina’s Rogan Wells.

The good news for Furman is that plenty of experience and depth returns along the defensive line, which gives Furman a great opportunity to be even better defensively this fall.

Preseason All-SoCon selection Cameron Coleman returns at nose tackle, highlighting the returnees along the defensive front for the 2022 campaign. Also back is Matt Sochovka at defensive tackle, who missed almost the entire 2022 season with a knee injury, sustaining his season-ending injury in the season opener against North Carolina A&T.

The defensive backfield appears to be an area of strength, and after a rash of injuries last year, it allowed some key performers to gain some valuable experience. Highlighting the returnees is preseason All-SoCon selection Travis Blackshear, who tied for the league lead in INTs last season. Dominic Morris, Kam Brinson, Ivan Yates, Cally Chizik and Hugh Ryan all return to a unit that expects to be among the best in the SoCon this fall.

The offensive line is always an area close to the heart of the Paladin head coach. That’s also a pretty logical guess, as Hendrix was a key member of Furman’s early-to-mid 1980s offensive front, which were responsible for helping pave the way for former Paladin greats like Stanford Jennings and Robbie Gardner.

The two offensive linemen that did end up garnering preseason praise were offensive tackles Anderson Tomlin and Pearson Toomey, who were both preseason first-team all-league selections.

They duo will be blocking for one of the league’s top returning running backs, in Dominic Roberto, who was voted to the second-team all-conference team by the coaches in the preseason. Roberto is among a talented stable of running backs returning for the Paladins heading into 2022, with guys like Kendall Thomas, Devin Abrams, and Myion Hicks just to name a few.

Hendrix also noted that one area that was a bit of a concern going into the 2021 season might be a potential strength for the Paladins entering the 2022 campaign.

With SoCon All-Freshman selection Joshua Harris returning as a potential breakout performer, coupled with the addition of James Madison transfer Kyndel Dean, and a pair of talented freshmen, in Ben Ferguson and Ethan Harris, the Paladins have more than a few big play options to surround All-American tight end Ryan Miller with this season.

The primary pieces are in place offensively, and the one real question mark remains quarterback. The Paladins were consistency at that very position from ending up in the FCS postseason last fall. After all, the Paladins lost games at home to eventual league champion East Tennessee State (L, 13-17) and on the road at rapidly improving Western Carolina (L, 42-43), with the Paladins having prime opportunities to win both games, as Furman blew second-half leads in both.

The loss to the Bucs was just Wilson’s third career start under center for Furman, and when you take into account, he missed two weeks of preseason camp with COVID-19, he was playing catch up nearly the entire 2021 season. The Paladins and Wilson found offense tough to come by for much of the afternoon against a tough, veteran Bucs defense.

The loss in Cullowhee was more baffling. Furman started the game and ended the game with quarterback issues. Furman had the first possession for either team in the high-scoring affair, and it would wind up providing the first points of the day, as Jacob Harris snagged a Sisson pass and for the second-consecutive season, raced the other way for points, as his 41-yard INT return for a score allowed the Catamounts to take an early 7-0 lead.

Still, Furman held what would seemingly have been a safe 42-31 lead, considering defense had been its strength all season in the third quarter, but that’s where things would begin to unravel, with the Catamounts scoring 12 unanswered points to close out a thrilling win, which personified the direction of each program during that juncture of the 2021 season.

Even with the Catamounts gaining much of the momentum in the final two quarters, outplaying the Paladins in the second half, Furman had a chance to win each football game with a little better play and decision-making under center and from its game management as a staff.

After Furman was forced to punt for a second-straight series, the Paladin defense did its job to force the Catamounts’ first punt of the day, as Paxton Roberson’s 39-yard punt was returned by Dejuan Bell, however, following would looked like it was going to be a great return deep into Catamount territory, as a big hit by WCU cornerback Ronald Kent Jr. from behind knocked the football free, and it was recovered by teammate Micah Nelson with 2:34 remaining.

Furman would then burn all three of its timeouts to force another WCU punt on its next possession, allowing the Furman offense to get the ball back with 1:21 left and no timeouts. 

Sisson rushed for 34 yards to the Furman 49 with 1:10 remaining. However, Sisson would take a sack back to the Furman 41, but then on a fourth downplay moments later, completed a seven-yard pass to Dejuan Bell to give the Paladins the ball at the WCU 41.

However, for the second time on the drive, Sisson was sacked, eventually forcing Furman to spike the ball and attempt a 62-yard field goal from Axel Levpvreau–the Paladin kickoff specialist–into his first-ever field goal attempt with one second left, which was no good. Better management and quarterback play in either game offensively against ETSU and Western Carolina.

The major positive at quarterback came in how Wilson would eventually finish off the season as his knowledge and familiarity with George Quarles’ diverse offensive scheme was finally coming into full focus for the young, talented signal-caller.

In the final two games of the season, which saw the Paladins knock off 20th-ranked VMI 37-31 in Greenville before closing the season with a 41-34 victory at Samford, Wilson went a combined 20-of-36 passing for 414 yards and three touchdowns, without throwing an INT.

Meanwhile, Wilson also rushed for 22 yards and a rushing score in those final two games of the season, as Furman closed out the 2021 season playing some of its best football on offense the entire season.

That said, Furman also had some out of the world performances on offense in 2021, like its season-opening performance in a 29-18 win over No. 24 North Carolina A&T, which saw Sisson post arguably the most memorable game since coming into rescue the Paladins to a win in Chattanooga as a freshman in 2019.

Sisson finished off the signature performance in the 2021 opener by completing 25-of-40 passes for 362 yards, with three scoring tosses and just one INT. His 362-yard passing effort was not only a career-high, but was also the second-highest passing yardage tally in Furman football history, topped only by Reese Hannon’s 365 passing yards in 38-35 loss to Coastal Carolina in 2015.

While Sisson was inconsistent, and Wilson was young, it was Wilson that would lead Furman to an emphatic close to the season in the win over Samford to close out the campaign, as the 503 yards of total offense was a season high, eclipsing the 487 in that season-opening win over the Aggies.

The quiet optimism heading into the 2022 season comes with the experience gained via the transfer portal.

One of the key acquisitions, and maybe even the most vital, came via the portal at quarterback, as the Furman staff went out and signed veteran former Presbyterian quarterback Tyler Huff to a letter of intent in late March. Huff comes to Furman with one year of eligibility remaining.

He is in a tight competition with sophomore incumbent sophomore starter Jace Wilson in fall camp, and should Wilson hold on to his starting job heading into the season opener, Huff will still add much needed experience and leadership to the position and will likely play regardless of whether he starts or not. 

In two-plus seasons at PC, Huff saw action in a total of 22 games, starting 12 times for the Blue Hose, connecting on 232-of-376 passes for 2,560 yards and 21 touchdowns.

The defense has a chance to be special and is again the strength of the team heading into the 2022 season. Cameron Coleman and Matt Sochovka highlight a defensive front, as the duo sports a combined 34 starts along the Paladin defensive line heading into the season.

A player that could be in line for a breakout season along the defensive line for the Paladins this fall is Bryce Stanfield

Linebacker is highlighted by the return by a several key performers, including Braden Gilby, Bryce McCormick, Evan Dimaggio, Nicky Kuzemka and Dae’one Wilkins. The Paladins have a pair of key performers to replace, in Adrian Hope and Elijah McCoy, as the duo split time at ‘bandit’ last season.

Both Jalen Miller and Caden Richards, who both hail from the Upstate, are athletic and give the Paladins solid depth at spur linebacker. Wilkins heads into the season as the penciled in starter at safety, but also has played most of his career in the Purple and White as a ‘spur’ outside linebacker.

Brought in to address the loss of both Hope and McKoy at ‘bandit’ is Emmanuel Adebayo from Northern Colorado. Adebayo was original sought by Furman in the recruiting process before he decided to matriculate to Greeley, CO., to suit up for the Golden Bears. Alex Maier and Luke Clark are also vying for the starting job when the Paladins open the season on Sept. 1 vs. North Greenville. Adebayo is a grad transfer and will have one season of eligibility remaining.

Finally, the Furman secondary looks as strong as it has been in quite some time. The unit will bring back memories of some of those secondaries from the early 2000s, which featured the likes of Rodney Johnson, Josh Cooper and Richie Jackson. Furman sports depth, athleticism and experience at all four positions, which is headlined by cornerback Travis Blackshear, who completed the 2021 season tied with The Citadel’s Destin Mack for the league lead in INTs.

Furman’s leading tackler-Hugh Ryan-is also a part of that star-studded secondary heading into 2022, returning as the starter at free safety.

Check out my preseason media day interview with Furman head coach Clay Hendrix at SoCon media day in late July by clicking below.

Furman head coach Clay Hendrix at SoCon media day 2022

In-Depth Offensive Preview:

Presbyterian College transfer quarterback Tyler Huff/photo courtesy of PC athletics

If you had a chance to watch Furman offense last season from start to finish, it was the equivalent of going on a visual odyssey through the 11-game slate, and while you never knew exactly what you might get from week-to-week, it was apparent that by the end of the 2021 season, the Paladins had established some rhythm and consistency on the offensive side of the football in comparison to where it had begun the campaign, struggling through much of the first month-and-a-half to find an identity as an offensive unit.

The Paladins are coming off a 2021 campaign, which saw them average 24.3 PPG (76th in FCS) and 359.8 YPG (65th in FCS). Furman’s bread-and-butter on offense was the ground game, which saw them average 184.1 YPG (24th in FCS) and posted 175.7 YPG (92nd in FCS) in passing offense. Furman finished the 2021 season 40.4% on third down (45th in FCS), while scoring points on 85.7% (28th in FCS) of their trips to the red zone last season.

Schematically speaking, Furman will be a sometimes no-huddle offense, mixed with pro-style tendencies.

In other words, the offense is more no-huddle without necessarily being a “hurry-up” under new offensive coordinator Justin Roper. The Paladins will once again likely be a run-oriented offense, and the Paladins will look similar to Holy Cross and the SoCon’s own East Tennessee State Bucs in terms of offensive scheme in terms of what they would like to do offensively.

Expect a lot of one-back sets, which will be a little different than Furman fans might be accustomed to in the past five seasons under Quarles and before that, Drew Cronic, as the Paladins won’t feature nearly as many double-wing formations. But that’s not to say there won’t be situations that won’t call for it.

The Paladins return a healthy eight starters on the offensive side of the football for the 2022 season, and that includes SoCon All-Freshman Team selection Jace Wilson (63-of-122 passing, 1,020 yds, 6 TDs, 3 INTs/58 rush att, 101 yds, 2 TDs, 1.7 YPC).

Wilson was called into action early on last season, with the Paladins struggling offensively, seeing his first action of the season in Furman’s first Southern Conference game against Mercer, as he came into the contest in the third quarter of that game.

His performance against the Bears came in a particularly tough situation, as the Paladins found themselves trailing the contest 21-0 to start the second half of what would end up being a 24-3 loss to the Bears. In a particularly tough situation, Wilson didn’t come in and rescue the Paladins and lead them to a come-from-behind victory or anything, but he did show some positive signs.

The then true freshman from Missouri City, TX, would end up un-seating Hamp Sisson as the starter under center by season’s end en route to garnering SoCon All-Freshman Team honors in the process.

The young signal-caller fashioned his most impressive performances under center for Furman in starts against both Wofford and Samford, respectively, last fall. In his first career start against Wofford, connecting on 14-of-23 passes for 189 yards and a TD, while rushing for 26 yards and another score, as the Paladins posted their first win at Wofford for the first time since 2006.

In the 41-34 win at Samford to close out the 2021 season, Wilson ended up connecting on 7-of-11 passes for 145 yards and a touchdown, while rushing 10 times for 15 yards and another score. It was the perfect way for Wilson to cement a winning season for the Paladins, and put his stamp on the starting job as the Furman signal-caller.

Battling him throughout fall camp to try and garner the starting job for Furman’s opener on Sept. 1 against North Greenville has been Presbyterian graduate transfer Tyler Huff.

During his time as the Blue Hose quarterback, Huff saw action in 22 games, which includes making 12 in two-plus seasons as a signal-caller in Clinton, S.C.

The 6-1, 200-lb native of Orange Park, FL, finished his time at PC by connecting on 232-of-376 passes for 2,560 yards and 21 touchdowns. He also rushed for 515 yards and six scores during his time with the Blue Hose.

During his freshman season of 2019, Huff was productive from the outset in a Blue Hose uniform, as he finished the season by passing for 871 yards and seven touchdowns, including a 145-yard, one touchdown passing effort against Gardner-Webb.

In the spring of 2021, he started all of PC’s six games in the COVID-19 shortened season, garnering second-team All Pioneer Football League honors, as he led the PFL in total offensive yards per game (278.5 YPG), while finishing second in passing yards per game (244.2 YPG).

He ended up throwing for a career-high 365 yards in a 29-24 win over Drake and finished with 307 yards passing versus Gardner-Webb.

True freshman Carson Jones and Charles Watson will also be part of the quarterback pecking order in some form of or fashion this fall. Jones is one of the premier signees in the 2021 signing class, committing to Furman last July. The Maryville, Tenn., product finished out his senior season, completing 158-of-206 passes for 2,175 yards and 28 TDs and one INT, adding nine TDs rushing, leading Maryville to a 13-1 record and a state playoff semifinal run.

The Rebels eventual fell in the semifinals of the playoffs to Oakland, 24-14, but Jones was named the Region 2-6A Player of the Year and Mr. Football semifinalist in the state of Tennessee. Jones was also a 2021 Tennessee All-State first-team selection.

Furman once again figures to punch well above its weight both nationally and in the SoCon with an elite contingent of running backs returning to the fold for the 2022 season.

Furman running back Dominic Roberto following fan day scrimmage on Aug. 20

Leading the way on the ground for the Paladins will be redshirt junior Dominic Roberto (96 rush att, 709 yds, 6 TDs, 7.4 YPC/4 rec, 29 yds).

Roberto is a big, physical running option for the Paladins offensively, and the 242-lb Paladin running back will certainly cause Paladin football fans to have flashbacks to former physical ground-gainers like Jerome Felton (2004-07), Tersoo Uhaa (2007-10), Jerodis Williams (2009-12) and Derek Russell (1997-2000).

Roberto’s powerful, lumbering running style, along with his deceptive speed bring back memories of the aforementioned running backs, who like Roberto, flourished as part of Furman offenses over the years, with most doing so at the now almost extinct fullback position in the backfield.

When Furman’s top running back last season–Devin Wynn–suffered what turn out to be a debilitating injury in a win over Wofford for the remainder of the 2021 season, Roberto was called upon to rescue the running back spot for the Purple and White for the remainder of the season. He responded to being benched and stepped and showed out as a result of the challenge the rest of 2021.

Roberto ended up leading the Paladins in rushing last fall, finishing the campaign with 709 yards rushing and six touchdowns on 96 attempts, averaging an impressive 7.4 yards-per-carry.

After rushing for only 56 yards over the first five games, Roberto would see his first significant action of the season in game six of the season against The Citadel, and he would prove to be an instant impact player in the absence of the All-SoCon running back Wynn.

Highlighting his performance against the Bulldogs was an electrifying 90-yard touchdown down the far sideline, which marked the second-longest run from scrimmage in program history. Only Russ Sutton’s 93-yard run against Presbyterian in 1951 was a longer run in Paladin football history in distance.

It was the start of what would be a strong final five games of the season for the Paladins, as he would end up rushing for 653 yards and six rushing scores over the final five games, averaging an impressive 8.28 YPC in those final five games of the season.

In a 43-42 loss at Western Carolina, Roberto rushed for 196 yards and four touchdowns on 24 rush attempts en route to leading the Paladins’ ground attack, garnering SoCon Offensive Player of the Week honors in the process. Roberto ended the season with a career-best effort, as he finished the 41-34 win over Samford by rushing for 216 yards on 22 carries.

All told, Roberto has rushed for 994 yards and 10 touchdowns on 159-career carries for the Paladins, averaging 6.3 yards-per-carry. As a receiving threat in his career for the Paladins, Roberto has caught seven passes for 60 yards.

Expected to team with Roberto in the Paladin backfield in 2022 will be both Devin Abrams (72 rush att, 334 yds, 3 TDs, 4.6 YPC/6 rec., 40 yds) and Kendall Thomas (24 rush att, 64 yds/5 rec 26 yds). Abrams is one of the veteran-most Paladin returnees on either side of the ball, sporting an impressive total of 29 starts in his Paladin career.

Abrams is a native of Pensacola, FL, where he he heads into his redshirt senior season in the Paladin backfield, and has already turned in a productive career in the Furman backfield.

So far in his Paladin career, Abrams has rushed for 1,230 yards and nine touchdowns during his time running the football for the Paladins and was a 2019 SoCon All-Freshman selection following a season which saw him rush for 615 yards and six touchdowns on exactly 100 attempts, averaging 6.2 YPC.

He’s also been an effective receiving threat coming out of the Paladin backfield during his career, having hauled in 20 passes for 242 yards and a pair of scores in his four seasons for the Paladins. In 2021, Abrams served as Furman’s starting tailback in 10 of 11 games.

He enjoyed his best game of the 2021 season in a win over Samford to conclude the 2021 season, as he rushed for 110 yards on 18 rush attempts in the 41-34 road win.

Thomas’ speed is an x-factor in the Paladin offense, and he is versatile in that he can be a threat as either a running threat or a receiving threat coming out of the Paladin backfield. In his Paladin career, Thomas has been buried a little on the depth chart behind the likes of Wynn, Abrams, and Anderson on the depth chart, but is set to see his most extensive action this fall.

He saw action in 10 of 11 games for the Paladins last season. He was also an asset as a member of the Paladin special teams as a kick return threat, returning a pair of kickoffs for 31 yards.

Other major contributors to the multi-faceted ground attack for the Paladins this fall will be Kendall Thomas (24 rush att, 64 yds/5 rec 26 yds), along with talented redshirt freshmen Grant Robinson and Myion Hicks. Jayquan Smith is a talented true freshman running back that could also log action in the Paladin backfield this fall, but will likely redshirt the 2022 season.

Robinson and Hicks redshirted the 2021 season and are slated to both see action in the lineup for the Paladins in 2022. Hicks had offers from 10 programs before settling on Furman. Two of those programs that offered Hicks were a pair of FBS schools, in both Air Force and Navy.

During his career at Pantego Christian Academy, seeing time at both running back and linebacker. He was a two-time all-district and all-state performer at linebacker, while rushing for 678 yards and 11 touchdowns as a senior. He also caught four scoring passes out of the backfield, showcasing his overall skillset as an offensive threat.

Robinson committed to Furman back in December of 2020, picking Furman among six offers, which included FBS programs Navy and Air Force. During his junior season at Pope John Paul II High School, Robinson just missed the 1,000-yard plateau for the season, finishing the campaign with 991 yards and six rushing touchdowns, helping his team to a 10-4 record and a state runner-up finish.

Smith committed to Furman on Dec. 1, 2021 and is one of hallmark offensive recruits of Clay Hendrix’s most recent signing class. Smith chose Furman over offers from Georgia State, Miami-Ohio, Air Force, Arkansas State, Charlotte, Richmond, Austin Peay, Tennessee Tech, Yale, Southern Illinois and Gardner-Webb, respectively.

The 2022 graduate of Cherokee Bluff High School (3A), where he played for former Paladin offensive lineman Tommy Jones. In the 2021 season, Smith racked up 1,750 yards and 22 TDs on 220 carries, as he helped Cherokee Bluff to an 11-1 record and a region championship. He was named the Region 7 3A Offensive Player of the Year, with his signature performance coming in an opening round playoff win over Greater Atlanta Christian, as he rushed for 305 yards and three scores on 34 attempts.

While Furman has always had playmakers in the running game under head coach Clay Hendrix, the same couldn’t always be said couldn’t always be said in the passing game.

Since 2019 and the graduation of Thomas Gordon, the argument could be made that the biggest big play threat in the passing attack for the Paladins has been Ryan Miller (43 rec, 749 yds, 7 TDs, 17.4 YPR), who has emerged as one of the top pass-catching tight ends in FCS football over the past couple of seasons.

Another player expected to make some big contributions at wide receiver this fall is Wayne Anderson Jr. (45 rush att, 236 yds, 3 TDs, 5.2 YPC/8 rec, 72 yds, 9.0 YPR), who makes the move from the Paladin backfield into the slot, where his speed can best be utilized.

Back in 2019, Anderson was also selected to the SoCon’s All-Freshman Team, finishing his rookie campaign with the Paladins rushing 41 times for 305 yards and four scores, averaging an impressive 7.4 yards-per-carry in his first season toting the rock.

For his career thus far, the redshirt junior from Prosper, TX, has rushed for 585 yards and seven TDs on 134 carries.

As a receiving threat out of the Paladin backfield during his Furman career, Anderson enjoyed has been a solid option to throw to over the past three seasons, having caught 28 passes for 285 yards and a pair of scores in his career. He could still be used in the backfield in certain situations this fall.

Miller, meanwhile, enters the 2022 season as a second-team All-America by STATS FCS, and subsequently, was also among 35 players named to the 2022 preseason Walter Payton Watch list. He has logged 30-career starts and his

The 6-2, 221-lb redshirt senior from Jackson, Tenn, possesses the speed of a wide receiver and the blocking ability of a tight end, and follows in a long line of talented tight ends that have suited up for the Paladins over the decades of tradition-rich success for the Furman football program.

He garnered Associated Press Third-Team All-America in 2021, as he became the 11th player in Furman football history to garner multiple All-America citations in the history of Furman football.

Miller was a consensus First-Team All-SoCon selection during the 2021 campaign, leading the Paladins with 43 receptions for 749 yards and seven TDs last fall, and averaged a league-best 17.4 yards-per-catch in doing so.

Miller started the season with a bang, hauling in an 87-yard pass from Hamp Sisson, doing most of the work with his feet by out-pacing the North Carolina A&T secondary in the process, as his play highlighted Furman’s season-opening 29-18 win over the Aggies.

Tight end Ryan Miller hauls in a 50-yard scoring pass from quarterback Jace Wilson in regular-season finale win at Samford

Entering his fifth and final season for the Paladins, Miller already ranks 18th in program history in receiving yards, while already being tied for fourth in school history in scoring catches. So far in his standout Paladin career, Miller has 79 catches for 1,384 yards and a tight end school-record 16 touchdowns.

Adding to the depth at tight in this fall for the Paladins will be Michigan State graduate transfer Parks Gissinger as well as redshirt junior Noah Henderson (2 rec, 6 yds). Henderson was able to log action in 10 games last season as a reserve wide receiver, excelling as one of the top blocking receivers for the Paladins.

He recorded receptions in games against North Carolina State and Western Carolina last season before making the switch to tight end late in the season.

Gissinger comes to Furman from Michigan State where he was able to log action in eight games during his time in East Lansing, garnering playing time in the first four games of the 2021 campaign. Gissinger would see his 2021 campaign cut short as a result of injury. He was the Co-Special Teams Player of the Week following MSU’s 23-20 win over Nebraska last season.

Furman has a pair of speedy wideouts that could contribute as deep threats this season, in sophomore Joshua Harris (26 rec, 295 yds, 1 TD, 11.3 YPR), as well as James Madison transfer Kyndel Dean .

Harris comes off a freshman campaign, which saw him rank second on the team in receiving, as he hauled in 26 passes for 295 yards and a touchdown, allowing 11.3 yards-per-catch. His performance was impressive enough last season to help Harris land on the SoCon’s All-Freshman Team, garnering playing time in all 11 games, starting nine games at split end.

He made an impact as a receiving threat in his very first game against North Carolina A&T, as he hauled in three passes for 69 yards, including a 41-yard scoring catch in Furman’s 29-18 season-opening win over the Aggies.

That was enough to see Harris moved into the mix as a starter at split end the very next week. In his first start against Tennessee Tech the following week, Harris made the most of his opportunity, hauling in five passes 54 yards in a 26-0 win. He followed that a couple of weeks later in Furman’s 24-3 loss to Mercer in its SoCon opener with a season-best five catches for 63 yards.

In his redshirt freshman season of 2018, Dean garnered starts in all 13 games for the Dukes and finished the season by garnering Hero Sports Freshman All-America honors after hauling in 47 passes for 614 yards and five scores. In 2019, Dean hauled in 20 passes for 263 yards and a touchdown.

Dean saw action in all eight games of JMU’s pandemic-shortened 2020 season, however, was not available for the 2021 campaign, as he sat out with an injury. His speed will give him an opportunity to play right away, competing for a starting job. He will have one season of eligibility remaining.

With Ryan DeLuca having moved on at flanker, Luke Shiflett (3 rec, 58 yds, 19.3 YPR) could be in competition for a starting spot at the position this fall.

Shiflett is a converted receiver with good speed, hands and elusiveness, but his strongest asset in the open field might be his blocking ability.

The redshirt senior is extremely savvy, and the converted quarterback returned from injury last season to appear in all 11 games.

He factored into Furman’s win on the road at Wofford in a major way, as he hauled in a pair of key passes for 38 yards to as part of a key Furman scoring drive in what turned out to be the Paladins’ first win in Spartanburg since 2006.

Shiflett also completed a pair of passes for 18 yards and had three rushes for six yards against N.C. State. He also had one catch for 20 yards against East Tennessee State.

Rounding out the major experience returning at wide receiver for the Paladins this fall is Noah Henderson.

The 6-1, 207-lb native of Nashville, TN, logged action in 10 games last fall, catching a pair of passes for 10 yards. Late in the season, he made the position change to tight end. He posted catches against North Carolina State and Western Carolina last season.

One of the young receivers that comes in that will have a chance to compete for time on the depth chart at receiver right away is true freshman Ben Ferguson, who comes to Furman from The Woodlands High School in The Woodlands, TX.

Ferguson is the latest signature recruit in Furman’s recent pipeline into the state of Texas. As a senior in 2021, Ferguson served as team captain, garnering first-team all-district honors following a season, which saw him haul in 46 passes for 1,010 yards and 13 TDs. He finished out his outstanding prep career ranking fifth in program history in receptions, receiving yards, and touchdown receptions.

Kelton Gunn and Bailor Hughes are a pair of speedy redshirt sophomores expected to compete for time on the depth chart at receiver this fall. Gunn and Hughes could be in the mix on special teams due to their speed and capabilities as contributors in Furman’s kick return responsibilities.


Senior wideout Luke Bynum, who also returns as a reserve wideout for the Paladins, was an important piece of the Furman special teams last fall, acting as the team’s holder on field goals and PATs. Air Force prep transfer Ethan Harris has a chance to compete for time at wideout this fall. The 6-2, 188-lb wideout from Raleigh, N.C., will have four years of eligibility remaining.

While the Paladins have assembled some nice pieces at wide receiver this fall, it’s the offensive line that appears to be the strength of the Furman offense heading into the 2022 campaign.

Furman welcomes the return of four veterans with starting experience along its offensive line, and heads into the 2022 with one of the top front lines in the Southern Conference, which must be music to the ears of new offensive line Matt McCutchan, who comes to Greenville from Johnson City, where he presided over an ETSU unit that was among the best in FCS last season, as the Bucs had two ground-gainers eclipse 1,000 yards rushing for the season.

Leading the way along the offensive front for the Paladins will be redshirt senior Anderson Tomlin. The preseason STATs FCS All-America and first-team All-SoCon pick, has meticulously worked his way into being one of the best offensive linemen in all of FCS football and figures to challenge for the league’s prestigious Jacobs Blocking Award, which is given to the league’s top offensive lineman at the conclusion of each season.

Tomlin solidified himself as a starter at left tackle in the 2020 season, which was played in the spring of 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The 6-5, 296-lb, native of Birmingham, AL, has found his way in Greenville, and has flourished the past couple of seasons along the Paladin offensive line.

Tomlin has blossomed into receiving national acclaim among both national and local league media members from relative obscurity and had after putting his mind into becoming a serious football player, making the switch from the defensive line to the offensive line between his sophomore and junior seasons at Mountain Brook.

Tomlin heads into the season as the starter at the left tackle spot for the Paladins, having started all 11 games last season, and has started 16 games in his Paladin career, appearing in a total of 21 contests.

Joining Tomlin as a starter along the left side of the offensive line will be left guard Jacob Johanning, who enters his redshirt junior season along the Paladin offensive front.

The 6-3, 276-lb native of Simpsonville, S.C., enters the 2022 season having seen action in 18 games, with 17 starts during his Paladin career. Johanning is a player that head coach Clay Hendrix referred to as being “all-conference caliber.”

Johanning’s 17 starts ranks as the second-most starts returning along the offensive front for the Paladins heading into the 2022 season.

He was part of an offensive front that saw the Paladin ground game explode over the latter half of the season, helping running back Dominic Roberto explode for 658 rushing yards over the final six games of the season, as he would emerge as one of the SoCon’s top running backs by season’s end.

Furman’s most-experienced returnee along the offensive front heading into the 2022 season is center Evan Jumper, who has logged a total of 26 starts during his Paladin career.

The 6-4, 274-lb redshirt junior from Myrtle Beach, S.C., has been a fixture along the Paladin offensive front each of the past three seasons, and is slated to enter the season as the starting center for the Paladins.

Jumper possesses the versatility to play elsewhere along the offensive line if called upon to do so. Though slated as a center coming into the 2022 season, he has logged most of his reps in fall camp at offensive tackle. Expect him to start the season at center, but that could be subject to change in the future. Either way, his versatility is something that could prove invaluable as the season progresses along.

Jumper was a 2019 SoCon All-Freshman team selection and should once again compete for all-league honors along the offensive front this fall. Jumper is among the most athletic performers along the Furman offensive front. Jumper had a streak of 21-straight starts come to an end last season in a loss at UTC.

Rounding out the four starters returning along the offensive line for the Paladins will be Pearson Toomey, who heads into the season as the projected starter at right tackle.

Toomey, like fellow Paladin offensive tackle Anderson Tomlin, should be in line to compete for All-SoCon honors along the Paladin offensive front this fall. The, a 6-3, 297-lb, redshirt junior and native of Jacksonville, FL., started nine out of the 11 games for the Paladins last fall.

The one vacancy that must be addressed along the Paladin offensive front heading into the 2022 season is the right guard spot, where the Paladins must replace veteran Clark Daniel.

Slated to likely log significant time at right guard are Wyatt Hughes and Blake Hundley. Hughes’ role will now likely significantly increase with the season-ending injury to Vollmer in preseason camp.

Others expected to make an impact as a part of the two-deep along the offensive front for the Paladins this fall include redshirt sophomore E.J. Wilson, as well as redshirt freshman Ryan Lamb. Wilson figures to provide depth at guard, while Lamb should be an integral part of head coach Clay Hendrix’s plans in 2022 at both center and guard in a reserve role this fall.

With Jumper likely to make the move from center to tackle, look for both Lamb and Hundley to compete to fill the role as the Paladins’ starting center this fall.

Also looking to provide depth at center is Wyatt Hughes saw action as a reserve at center last season and has logged four-career starts.

The Paladin offensive line should be a strength of the Paladin offense this fall, and its arguably the best collection of talent that head coach Clay Hendrix has had along the offensive line heading into what will be his sixth season as the head coach of the Paladins.

In-Depth Defensive Preview:

Furman senior nose tackle Cameron Coleman

In 2021, the Paladins got off to a strong start on the defensive side of the football, and much of that had to do with the play along the defensive front, as well as the play of the front seven as a whole.

Furman headed into its Oct. 30 loss at Chattanooga with the second-best defense in the SoCon, and one of the best defenses in the nation. The best way to accurately describe the Paladin defense during the 2021 season was a “bend-but-don’t-break” defensive unit. The Paladins got arguably some of its best play along the defensive line for an entire season in the Clay Hendrix tenure during the 2021 season.

The Paladins have a chance to continue that impressive play along the defensive front this fall, with a couple of veterans that have combined for 33-career starts to anchor the defensive line, as well as having a chance to once again be pretty good defensively, returning seven of 11 starters on the defensive side of the football and eight others with starting experience.


Like the offensive line, the Paladins sport excellent experience along the defensive front returning for the 2022 season. A total of 12 players, which includes seven lettermen at three different positions highlight the unit.

The course of events would change over the final month of the season, however, as the Paladins finished the 2021 campaign ranking a solid 70th in total defense (383.1 YPG) in total defense last season, which was one spot below league champion East Tennessee State.

The Paladins also finished the campaign ranking 72nd nationally in passing yards allowed (230.0 YPG), 38th in scoring defense (23.5 PPG), 62nd in rush defense (153.1 YPG), tied for 79th in total team sacks (19.0 sacks/1.73 SPG), and 117th in third down conversion percentage defense (47.8%) last fall.

Furman’s inability to get off the field on third down last season is a concern for defensive coordinator Duane Vaughn heading into the 2021 season. Many of those conversion opportunities on third down were in 3rd-and-5 or longer situations, as well. Furman will once again utilize a 3-4 alignment on the defensive side of the football, but will have the ability to be multiple in certain situations defensively.

Along the defensive line, the Paladins welcome back a pair of veterans, in nose tackle Cameron Coleman (32 tackles, 1.0 TFL), as well as Matt Sochovka (1 tackle), as the veteran duo has combined to start 33 games over their respective careers.

Coleman heads into his redshirt senior campaign along the defensive front having seen action in all 11 games last season, posting 10 starts. He voluntarily turned down the opportunity to start all 11 games last fall, allowing then senior Parker Stokes to make the start in the regular-season home finale against VMI.

He has been an integral part of the Paladin defensive front each of the past three seasons and could be a player that contends for all-league honors this fall.

In 2020, Coleman ended up garnering second-team All-SoCon honors. This season, Coleman heads into the season as a preseason second-team All-SoCon pick.

The 6-3, 304-lb redshirt senior ended up making 32 tackles and a tackle-for-loss, as he turned in a solid 2021 season for the Paladins. Coleman had his best performance of the 2021 campaign against The Citadel in a 24-14 win, as he posted a season-high five tackles in Furman’s win over its bitter rival.

Coleman makes the jersey No. change from No. 56 to No. 0 this season. In his three seasons for the Paladins, the native of Elizabethton, TN, has posted a total of 67 tackles, 6.5 TFL, 2.0 sacks, and has forced a fumble.

Sochovka made the decision to return for one more season along the Paladin defensive line after having graduate this past spring. Sochovka, a 6-4, 296-lb native from Fayetteville, N.C., started the 2021 season as Furman’s starting defensive tackle, however, suffered a season-ending knee injury in the season-opening, 29-18, win over North Carolina A&T.

His experience and know-how only add to the expectations for another solid season for the Paladins along the defensive line. Following his knee injury against the Aggies, Sochovka was awarded a medical redshirt and an extra year of eligibility.

In his career, Sochovka has seen action in a total of 24 games, including having made 15 starts over the past four years. All told in his Paladin career, Sochovka has posted 39 tackles, 5.0 tackles-for-loss, 2.0 sacks, forced a fumble, recorded one INT, blocked one kick and has three passes defended.

Sophomore Bryce Stanfield (19 tackles, 4.5 TFL, 3.0 sacks) looks to build on what was an exceptional rookie season as a Paladin defensive tackle until he was sidelined by injuries.

The 6-2, 252-lb native of Ackworth, GA., enjoyed the signature performance of his career in Furman’s 17-13 loss to No. 14 East Tennessee State last season, as he posted four tackles, two tackles-for-loss and a pair of sacks in the heartbreaking four-point loss.

His return to the unit this fall means that sophomore Xavier Stephens (16 tackles, 1.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks at Lehigh in 2021) transferred into the program from Lehigh, and he will have three years of eligibility remaining along the defensive front for the Paladins this fall.

During his time with the Mountain Hawks, he was a significant part of the defensive plans in Bethlehem, PA., each of the past couple seasons.

During the 2021 season with the Mountain Hawks, Stephens finished his campaign participating in eight games at Lehigh, posting 16 tackles, 1.5 tackles-for-loss. The 6-3, 270-lb native of Roanoke, VA., enjoyed his most productive performance of the season in a 30-3 loss at Colgate, as he registered a career-high five tackles, while posting four stops in 20-0 setback to Penn.

Stephens will most likely compete for time at nose tackle heading into the 2022 season. Stephens was one of 11 offers entertained by Stephens during the original recruiting process. Those 11 offers included FBS offers from Coastal Carolina, Air Force, Army and Navy, respectively. He is poised to make an immediate impact along defensive line coach Kevin Lewis’ defensive front in 2022.

The Paladins have plenty of talent waiting in the wings to make their impact along the offensive front this fall.

Redshirt sophomore defensive end Jeremiah Jackson (15 tackles, 1.0 TFL) and redshirt sophomore nose guard Seth Johnson (3 tackles) are two linemen expected to lend significant support along the defensive front this fall. Jackson will likely end up winning the starting job at defensive end in fall camp.

Johnson, a 6-1, 301-lb native of Chattanooga, Tenn., saw action in 10 games in a reserve role behind both Cameron Coleman and Parker Stokes last fall.

Jackson, a 6-0, 256-lb, native of Fleming Island, FL, ended up logging action as a reserve defensive end in 11 games last season. He served as the primary backup to Landon Lawrence for much of the season. The senior veteran enjoyed his best performance of the season in a 13-3 loss at Chattanooga, registering a season-high five stops.

Redshirt junior Jack Barton (4 tackles) is another veteran expected to play a part in the defensive line plans this fall. Barton ended up seeing time in eight games as a reserve at defensive tackle during the 2021 campaign, finishing with four tackles. Barton projects as a backup at defensive end. He has logged action in 14 games in three seasons for the Paladins.

Senior Trey Rogers (7 tackles) has played three different positions along the defensive line for the Paladins in his career and could offer depth defensive end this fall.

Another player that expects to see his action in a reserve role along the defensive end this fall is senior Jalen Clark, while Malachi Harrison, Thomas Pilon, and Mac Albert are three true freshmen that could break into two-deep at some point this season.

Harrison comes to Furman from Knoxville, Tenn., where he played for the Christian Academy of Knoxville (D2-AA), helping CAK to an 8-3 overall record and an appearance in the quarterfinal round of the playoffs.

During his junior campaign of 2020, he helped CAK to an 11-1 record and a region title. He finished out his prep career as a three-time all-region selection and was a 2020 and ‘21 Tennessee Sportswriters Association All-State pick.

While the defensive line is stockpiled with a good mix of experience and youthful talent, there’s no drop-off among linebackers, giving the Paladins the opportunity to have one of the better defensive line contingents in the SoCon this fall.

Three of four starters return to the unit for the 2022 season, with the lone losses as a result of graduation being ‘bandit’ linebackers Adrian Hope and Elijah McKoy.

Both Hope and McKoy garnered All-SoCon recognition in their respective careers, with Hope completing his career ranking third in program history in career sacks, posting 26.5 quarterback takedowns during his standout career for the Paladins.

Competing to represent the Paladins at the ‘bandit’ linebacker position heading into the 2022 campaign are redshirt sophomore Luke Clark (18 tackles, 2.5 TFL, 2.0 sacks, 1 FF), and redshirt freshmen Luke McLaughlin and Alex Maier should also see action at the ‘bandit’ position this fall.

Clark, a 6-3, 243-lb, native of Louisville, KY., logged action in 10 games as a backup at ‘bandit’ last fall, and turned out one of his best performances in Furman’s 26-0 win at Tennessee Tech last fall.

In that contest, Clark finished up with three tackles, one sack and forced a fumble in the Paladin shutout road win.

He posted a season-high six tackles and recorded a sack in Furman’s narrow 17-13 loss at home to No. 14 East Tennessee State last season. Clark comes off a strong spring and is in line to be the starter at the ‘bandit’ spot this fall. Clark benefitted from playing behind two veteran stars, in Hope and McKoy at the ‘bandit’ position each of the past two campaigns.

McLaughlin is a 6-2, 197-lb from Couer D’ Alene (5A) high school where he played both inside linebacker and wide receiver during his prep career.

The native of the Gem State could see action this fall after having redshirted the 2021 campaign. In his final three seasons, McLaughlin helped Couer D’Alene High School to impressive records of 10-1, 9-3, and 8-1, respectively. During his junior campaign, he helped Couer-D’Alene to a state championship game appearance, where they lost by one-point in the title game.

He was named the 5A Conference Defensive Player of the Year and Player of the Year as well, while also collecting all-state honors following a state-leading 183 tackles, which included a school single-game record 25-tackle effort.

Maier saw action in one game against The Citadel last season, posting one tackle, and was able to retain a redshirt and was able to retain an extra year of eligibility. The 6-4, 238-lb, redshirt freshman from Fleming Island, FL., is a 2021 graduate of Fleming Island (7A) High School, where he committed Furman after entertaining offers from eight schools before settling on Furman.

One late addition to the Paladin roster, which was announced a day after the SoCon held its annual is at the ‘bandit’ position, in Northern Colorado OLB transfer Emmanuel Adebayo. Adebayo figures to add both athleticism and another pass rushing presence along the edge this fall for the Paladins.

According to Furman head coach Clay Hendrix, Adebayo has a chance to be an immediate impact player this fall for the Paladins. In action with the Bears last season, Adebayo logged action in three games last fall, recording three tackles. He marks the fifth total graduate transfer on the Paladin roster and is the eighth transfer overall for Furman heading into the 2022 season.

Highlighting the three returnees at inside linebacker for the Paladins heading into the 2022 campaign is redshirt senior middle linebacker Braden Gilby (59 tackles, 1.0 TFL, 1 FF, 1 FR, 3 passes defended), who comes into the season as one of the most experienced players on the defensive side of the football for the Paladins. In his career-to-date with Furman, Gilby has seen action in a total of 33 games, which includes logging 20 starts.

Gilby, a 6-2, 237-lb native of St. Petersburg, FL, saw action in 10 of 11 games for the Paladins last season, posting starts in nine of the 10 games he saw action in a year ago. Gilby was forced to miss the East Tennessee State game, as he sat out that contest with an injury.

His 59 tackles last season ended up ranking second on the squad for total tackles last season, and he would record his best performance of the season in a 13-3 loss at Chattanooga, finishing with a season-high 13 stops, which included one behind the line of scrimmage.

In Furman’s 41-34 road win at Samford to close out the campaign, Gilby recorded another double-digit tackle effort, posting 12 stops. He also had a key third quarter fumble recovery at the goal line, halting a North Carolina A&T potential scoring drive, allowing Furman to hold off the 24th-ranked Aggies and preserve a 29-18 win.

Gilby was a 2019 SoCon All-Freshman Team pick and has enjoyed a productive three seasons as a member of the Paladin linebacking corps, and has amassed 169 total career stops, 6.5 tackles-for-loss, six passes defended, forced four fumbles, recovered a pair of fumbles, and has picked off a pass.

Set to join Gilby as a returning starter at inside linebacker heading into the 2022 campaign is redshirt junior Nicky Kuzemka (44 tackles, 2.0 TFL, 1.0 sack, 1 FF).

Kuzemka really came on and began to establish himself as a solid presence in the Paladin defense during the COVID-19 compromised 2020-21 spring season.

He will be making the change from No. 52-to-No. 19 this fall and is penciled in as the starter at weak side linebacker heading into the season.

Kuzemka garnered SoCon All-Freshman Team honors in the spring of 2020, and comes off a 2021 season, which saw him rank sixth on the team in total tackles with 44 total stops. The Clifton, VA., native logged action in all 11 games for the Paladins, which included totaling 10 starts.

He posted his best performance of the season in the regular-season finale win over Samford, finishing the contest with nine tackles, which included one behind the line of scrimmage.

In three previous seasons lining up for the Paladins at inside linebacker, Kuzemka has posted a total of 99 tackles, 4.5 TFL, a sack, an INT, and has forced a fumble.

With 21 games under his belt with the Paladins, including 17 starts, Kuzemka is poised to once again be one of the leaders of the Paladin defense.

Rounding out the projected starters at linebacker heading into the 2022 season for Furman will be ‘spur’ linebacker Jalen Miller (12 tackles), as he takes over the starting position for Dae’one Wilkins, who made the move to strong safety during the spring.

Miller, a 5-11, 211-lb native of Byrnes, S.C., seeing action in all 11 games, including having posted one start. Miller made his only start of the season against Western Carolina at the ‘spur’ position. In that game against the Catamounts, Miller registered a season-high three tackles.

Set to compete for time at the ‘spur’ position this fall will be Caden Richards (18 tackles, 1 pass deflection) and Amaah Achina (6 tackles). Richards, a native of Gaffney, S.C., saw his most extensive action as a part of the Paladin defense in 2021.

The 6-1, 202-lb, redshirt sophomore ended up seeing action in all 11 games as a reserve at ‘spur’ as well as special teams.

In Furman’s 42-20 win over Wofford, Richards garnered his first-career start against the Terriers, posting a season-high four stops. He also posted three tackles in the loss at North Carolina State.

Achina logged action in a total of four games as a true freshman last fall, posting a total of six tackles in his rookie campaign. Achina was an impressive member of Furman’s 2020 recruiting haul, playing his prep football at Northern Guilford High School in Greensboro, N.C., where he chose Furman among 13 offers.

Among those he chose Furman over were FBS offers from Army and East Carolina. Though his senior season was delayed due to COVID-19, he played safety where he garnered 3-5A all-conference honors, helping his school to the second round of the state playoffs and an 8-5 final overall record.

Not only do the Paladins return more than adequate starting experience at linebacker, but they are also blessed with really good depth at linebacker heading into the 2022 season.

Figuring prominently into the plans at inside linebacker this fall will be Evan DiMaggio (32 tackles, 2.0 TFL, 1 FR ) and Bryce McCormick (46 tackles, 2.0 TFL, 2 FFs, 1 INT).

DiMaggio saw action in all 11 games in 2021, logging his action as a reserve inside linebacker, as well as being a major contributor on special teams. The redshirt sophomore from Buford, GA, will likely compete for time behind Gilby at middle linebacker.

McCormick is one of Furman’s most athletic defenders. The 6-2, 223-lb redshirt junior from Franklin, TN., seeing action in all 11 games, including drawing his first-career start in Furman’s 13-3 loss at Chattanooga.

His 46 tackles ended up ranking him fourth on the team in tackles, enjoying his best performance of the season in Furman’s 24-14 win over The Citadel, finishing with 10 tackles and forced a fumble and had an INT in the 10-point win for the Paladins. He, along with linebacking teammate Elijah McKoy, helped key the win on the defensive side of the football in the Paladins’ win over their arch-rival.

In a narrow loss to East Tennessee State a week later, McCormick finished with eight tackles, while in the 43-42 road loss at Western Carolina, McCormick recorded seven tackles, which included forcing a fumble and picking off a pass. McCormick could well compete for starting time at inside linebacker in 2022.

Another candidate to see action at inside linebacker this fall will be Dan Scianna (36 tackles, 1.5 TFL, 2 FFs). The 5-10, 206-lb linebacker from Frankfort, IL., enjoyed what was a breakout season in the Furman linebacking corps, and he added even more depth to an already extremely deep unit. Scianna played in all 11 games, which included making a couple of starts against Mercer and East Tennessee State.

Scianna ended up enjoying his best outing in Furman’s 24-14 win over arch-rival The Citadel, posting a season-high 12 tackles. He was credited with four stops against VMI, N.C. State and Mercer. He will once again vie for playing time at inside linebacker this fall.

Dylan Chiedo is part of the latest recruiting haul and is a player that could end up working his way into the plans at linebacker this fall.

Chiedo, a 6-2, 225-lb linebacker from Jacksonville, FL., by way of Bartram Trail HS–the same program that produced former Paladin quarterback P.J. Blazejowski–and he chose Furman among 11 offers, committing to play for the Paladins back in late November, choosing Furman over Iowa State, Maryland, East Carolina, Coastal Carolina, Liberty, UConn, Florida Atlantic, Dartmouth, Penn and Stetson.

He finished with 98 tackles in 2021, helping Bartram Traili to a 9-3 record. As a junior in 2020, he logged 107 tackles in 10 contests, helping his prep program to an 11-3 mark. Chiedo was a two-time all-conference selection and should add depth to the inside linebacker spot.

Furman’s strength on defense is its secondary, and the Paladins should field one of the best units in the Southern Conference this fall, led by preseason all-conference selection and All-America candidate, in redshirt senior cornerback Travis Blackshear (52 tackles, 1.5 TFL, 1.0 sack, 5 INTs, 5 PBUs, 2 FRs, 1 FF).

The 5-11, 180-lb redshirt senior from Savannah, GA, is coming off a season in which he garnered consensus second team All-SoCon honors.

Furman senior cornerback Travis Blackshear

After initially exploring both professional and transfer portal options for his redshirt senior season, Blackshear opted to stay and play his final season, afforded by the COVID-19 pandemic, in Greenville.

During the 2021 season, Blackshear started all 11 games for the Paladins, and his 52 tackles last season ranked him third overall on the team. The speedster will be Furman’s primary lockdown corner and could also factor in on special teams this fall. His five interceptions in 2021 were tied for the league lead last season.

Blackshear also posted 10 passes defended and a pair of fumble recoveries, with both of those season-ending totals ranking tied for fifth in the SoCon. He posted a season-high nine tackles and had a fumble recovery against Western Carolina.

In the 26-0 win over Tennessee Tech, he posted a pair of INTs and totaled 50 return yards in what was a complete and dominant defensive effort from the Paladins. In the season-opening win over North Carolina A&T, Blackshear finished with six tackles, which included a sack, forced fumble, an INT and a pass breakup.

Blackshear follows in a great line of Furman corners, which includes the likes of Ryan Steed (2008-11), William Middleton (2005-08), Andre Worrell (1990-93) and Rodney Johnson (1999-2003) to name a few.

In four seasons thus far as a Paladin cornerback, Blackshear has seen action in 34 games, which includes having made 28 starts, posting 125-career tackles, 4.0 TFL, two sacks, 18 passes defended, eight INTs, forced three fumbles and recovered three.

Set to team with Blackshear as a part of the Furman secondary this fall will be sophomore Dominic Morris (12 tackles, 1 PBU, 1 INT), who finished the season by garnering SoCon All-Freshman accolades, according to the league’s head coaches.

Morris garnered playing time in each of the final nine games for Furman, including a pair of starts in the latter portion of the season, getting the nod in Furman’s final two games of the campaign–both wins–against both VMI and Samford.

Morris was able to cut his teeth and get key experience playing as a part of the Furman secondary last fall, and finished the campaign with 12 tackles, which included a pair of pass deflections and an INT. He finished off the regular-season finale against Samford with a season-high five tackles.

Also, in the mix at corner this coming fall for the Paladins will be another young cornerback, in redshirt sophomore Ivan Yates (13 tackles, 0.5 TFL, 1 pass defended).

The 6-0, 180-lb, native of Roswell, GA., garnered starts in the first four games of the season for the Paladins before having to miss the remainder of the season with an injury. In the 29-18 season-opening win over North Carolina A&T, Yates recorded seven tackles and a pass breakup, while posting thee stops in the loss at N.C. State, and finished with a pair of stops against Tennessee Tech.

Also expected to log significant reps at cornerback for Furman this fall is Micah Robinson (30 tackles, 0.5 TFL, 3 passes defended, 1 FR).

Robinson saw time at cornerback in all 11 games last season, assuming the starting duties following Yates’ season-ending injury. in the 42-20 win over Wofford, Robinson posted three tackles and a pass breakup after coming into replace Yates in his first-career start.

He posted a season-high five tackles and a pass breakup in the loss to Chattanooga. Robinson also recorded three tackles and a pass deflection against The Citadel.

Even more experience is provided by redshirt junior Cally Chizik, who expects to play a leadership role, along with Blackshear, in the Paladin secondary in 2022. The Auburn, AL, native was forced to miss the 2021 campaign with a back injury but will be 100% when fall camp rolls around. Chizik’s absence last season allowed other younger corners gain valuable experience for Furman.

Two years ago, as he logged action in the first five contests of the spring before having to sit out the final couple of games due to injury. Chizik logged his first-career start in the third game of the spring 2020 season against Samford and would end up making one of the most important defensive plays of the COVID-shortened season.

He stepped in and started for an injured Travis Blackshear and made the most of that opportunity, as he posted six tackles, a tackle-for-loss, and recovered what proved to be the game-winning fumble in what was a 44-37 overtime win by the Paladins over Samford. Chizik should be in line to challenge for a starting job at corner this fall.

A player that will look to work his way into the fold at CB will be from Furman’s 2022 recruiting haul is at cornerback, as head coach Clay Hendrix and staff have gained the services of Jalen Gummer. Gummer–a good athlete–will likely redshirt the 2022 campaign.

Keep an eye on Cam Hamer, who could be an x-factor player at cornerback, spent a season with the Furman equipment staff after transferring in from Albright College before deciding to join the team. He will compete for a spot on the depth chart at corner.

Like cornerback, safety is also one of the deepest positions on the defensive side of the ball, and a couple of veterans return to anchor the unit heading into the 2022 season, with both Hugh Ryan (62 tackles, 2.0 TFL, 3 PBUs, 1 INT, 1 QBH) and Dae’one Wilkins (22 tackles, 1.5 TFL, 1 PBU, 1 blkd kick) set to garner the starting jobs at both free and strong safety, respectively, heading into fall camp.

Ryan finished off the 2021 season as Furman’s top tackler, registering 62 stops on the season and started all 11 games for the Paladins at free safety. Ryan enjoyed his best performance of the season in Furman’s loss at Chattanooga, posting a season-high nine stops.

The Irmo, S.C., native also posted eight tackles in a pair of games against VMI and East Tennessee State. Ryan’s lone INT of the season came in a 43-42 setback at Western Carolina. Through three seasons as a Paladin thus far, Ryan has posted 112 tackles and four INTs, and will likely compete for all-league laurels this fall.

Furman senior strong safety Dae’One Wilkins

Wilkins is one of the most experienced players on the defensive side of the football for the Paladins, as the redshirt senior started the final six games of the season at the ‘spur’ position for the Paladins. He is not only one of the best athletes on the defensive side of the football, but also one of the unit’s hardest hitters. He’ll be a playmaker for the Paladin secondary this fall and made the transition from ‘spur’ linebacker-to-defensive back during the spring.

He is a veteran of 30 games played, and has made 64 tackles, six tackles behind the line of scrimmage, recorded six pass deflections, blocked a kick, and has recorded a sack.

Wilkins blocked a field goal in Furman’s season-opening win at North Carolina A&T. In each of Furman’s final two games against VMI and Samford, he recorded three tackles in each of those contests.

Competing with Wilkins to replace DiMarcus Clay at strong safety in fall camp will be Kam Brinson (23 tackles, 1.0 TFL, 2 passes defended). Brinson is another potential playmaker in the Paladin secondary, and has seen action in 20 games, with a pair of starts in his Furman career.

The 5-10, 186-lb redshirt junior logged action in 10 of 11 games for the Paladins last season, seeing action at both strong safety and on special teams last season. Brinson has played strong safety each of the past two seasons after originally playing cornerback in his rookie campaign with Furman back in 2019.

Also slated to factor in at safety this fall include redshirt sophomore Jack Rhodes (11 tackles), as well as plenty of younger performers that will look to make an impact

Others that could log action this fall include true freshman Caleb Williams, redshirt freshman and preferred walk-on Justin Hartwell, true freshman Charles Ingram V, true freshman Tre McCleod, redshirt freshman DJ Durham Jr., and redshirt freshman Will Kobuszewski will all be vying for action in the Paladin secondary this fall, providing depth at safety and corner.

Williams, Ingram and McCleod are a trio off the more notable additions to the secondary, as all three were part of Furman’s most-recent signing haul. Williams is a 5-10, 180-lb, native of Tampa, FL, by way of Tampa Jesuit (6A) High School, and chose Furman over offers from both Gardner-Webb and Bryant, respectively.

Williams played both cornerback and safety while at Tampa Jesuit, and played a leading role in a 15-0 season, which saw his program finish off perfection with a 35-29 win over Pine Forest to close out the title-winning campaign.

He finished off the stellar campaign by recording 110 tackles, six INTs, nine pass deflections, and recovered three fumbles. He was a two-time all-state selection by the Florida Coaches Association.

Ingram is a 5-11, 180-lb, native of Nashville, TN., by way of Ensworth HS, which has been a major pipeline for Paladin talent over the years. The Music City product will have a chance to factor in head coach Clay Hendrix’s plans immediately this fall and joins the Paladin football program following his outstanding prep career.

The standout defensive back committed to Furman following offers from Kansas, Syracuse, Army, Richmond, Harvard, and Eastern Kentucky. Ingram saw action at cornerback, safety and running back, respectively, during his time at Ensworth.

He garnered all-region honors following helping Ensworth to a 7-5 mark as a senior and was also a 2021 all-state selection. Ingram was the recipient of the Tennessee East-West All-Star West Defensive MVP honor, as well as being honored with the National Football Foundation’s William P. Lawrence Award. He finished his career with 41 and two INTs, while rushing for 1,060 yards and 12 scores during his prep career.

McCleod rounds out the rookies with a chance to see action immediately. The Darlington, S.C., product chose Furman over Navy, Air Force, Army, and Fordham.

He committed to Furman last July and played his prep football at Trinity Collegiate School (SCISA-3-A) where he logged action at both defensive back and running back, respectively. He was the recipient of the Region II Offensive Player of the Year in 2021 following a campaign, which saw him rush for 1,466 yards and 19 TDs, while also hauling in three scores as a receiver out of the backfield.

The first-team SCISA-3A All-State selection as an athlete and was also a Prep Redzone FAB 50 All-State selection following a season which saw him lead Trinity Collegiate to an 11-2 record and state runner-up finish. As a member of Trinity’s defense in 2021, McCleod finished with 82 tackles, picked off six passes, and forced a fumble.

Previewing the Paladin Special Teams:

One of the areas that is seemingly always been solid throughout the tradition of Furman’s success is its special teams unit, which is led by an outstanding lineage of place-kickers, and heading into the 2022 season, there’s a bit of uncertainty following the departure of Timmy Bleekrode for the University of Nebraska.

Bleekrode handled both the place-kicking and punting duties last fall for the Paladins, and both jobs will be open for competition when fall camp rolls around in early August.

Capable candidates to replace Bleekrode at place-kicker this fall for the Paladins include North Carolina State transfer Ian Williams, Axel Lepvreau, Sebastian Stubblefield, Noah Rios, Truette Tumey, Evan Cooley and Dawson Jones are likely to compete for the kicking and punting duties heading into camp.

Williams is likely the favorite to handle both responsibilities, as he joined the Paladin football program back in May.

The 6-3, 232-lb native of Charlotte, N.C., by way of Weddington HS, spent the past two seasons at North Carolina State, where he appeared in one game as a specialist. He will have three years of eligibility remaining. The lone game in which he saw action for the Wolfpack last season came against Florida State, which he recorded a kickoff of 65 yards in a win over the Seminoles.

While Williams could handle both the kicking and punting responsibilities this fall, Tumey is an impressive true freshman punter from Houston, TX, that could also find himself in the mix at punter this fall. The 2021 graduate of 4A Episcopal High School served as a place-kicker and punter, respectively, during his prep career, where he connected on 9-of-12 PATs and all three field goal attempts as a senior, while averaging 41.0 yards-per-punt in an abbreviated senior season.

He was also an accomplished soccer player during his time at Episcopal High School, garnering team MVP honors on the pitch as a sophomore. He was a finalist for the Houston Touchdown Club Specialist of the Year as a senior.

The good news for the Paladin special teams unit is the return of Lepverau, who will likely once again handle the kickoff responsibilities for the Paladins this fall.

Lepvreau is coming off a strong campaign handling the kickoff responsibilities for the Paladins in 2021, kicking off 57 times and averaging 58.4 yards-per-kickoff, with 20 touchbacks and only two kicks sailing out of play.

He attempted a 62-yard potential game-winning field goal at Western Carolina, which fell short, as the Paladins came up one point short, 43-42, in Cullowhee last fall.

Other strengths include long snapper, where redshirt sophomore Julian Ashby returns to the fold, as does reserve wide receiver and senior Luke Bynum, who will handle the responsibilities as the place-holder on Paladin field goal and PAT attempts this fall.

The Paladins also have some good experience in the return game, where wideout Wayne Anderson Jr. (22.8 YPR) and running back Kendall Thomas (15.5 YPR) return to the fold.

Final Analysis: If Furman can solve its issues under center, the Paladins have a chance to get back to winning football and could realistically challenge for a Southern Conference title and playoff berth once again this fall. The strengths on offense include an offensive line that has two of the best in the league at their respective positions, in offensive tackles Anderson Tomlin and Pearson Toomey, who were both selected preseason All-SoCon. Add to that, the Paladins have one of the most experienced centers in the SoCon, in Evan Jumper, and it could be the best offensive line head coach Clay Hendrix has had since returning to his alma mater to become the head coach in 2017. The defense should once again be especially stout, touting its most experience along the defensive front, as well as in the defensive backfield. I expect to see the Paladins to make more than a little noise in the SoCon this fall.

2022 Schedule Wins and Losses Predictions:

Sept. 1 vs. North Greenville W
Sept. 10 at Clemson L
Sept. 17 at East Tennessee State* L
Sept. 24 at Charleston Southern W
Oct. 1 vs. Samford* W
Oct. 8 at The Citadel* W
Oct. 15 vs Western Carolina * W
Oct. 22 at VMI* W
Oct, 29 vs. Chattanooga* L
Nov. 12 at Mercer* W
Nov. 19 vs. Wofford* W

Final Regular Season Record Prediction: 8-3, 6-2 SoCon

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