Furman begins a new era in 2017 with former player and assistant coach Clay Hendrix at the helm. Coach Hendrix is faced with a total scheme overhaul moving to a more option based look on offense and 3-4 defensive lineup. While the cupboard is not bare, the Paladins will depend on a number of new faces on both sides of the ball and those returning are learning new plays and working with a new coaching staff. Furman is a proud program with a rich history, but has a lot of work ahead to return to the glory days of competing nationally on an annual basis.
On offense, QB PJ Blazejowski is the clear leader and starter for the first time in his career after battling Reese Hannon for playing time in the last three seasons. PJ is joined by a large group of backs and receivers including preseason all-SoCon RB Antonio Wilcox and talented So. WR Thomas Gordon. The question this season, as it has been the last couple of years under Bruce Fowler, is when will the offensive line return to the form Paladin fans have grown to expect? The Furman faithful would love to see a dominate line in 2017 behind seniors Matthew Schmidt and Terrell Bush, but there are a lot of young guys in the rotation that will have to learn quick to contribute right away. I believe the goal for the Paladins’ offense this year will be to play smart, limit the turnovers, and take advantage of short field opportunities.
Defensively, there may be even more talent, but also more questions due to the installation of a 3-4 defense which Furman fans have rarely seen. The good news is NG Jaylon Reid seems tailor made for this defense and is expected to be a star right away. Also, returning as a starter is safety Aquil Aanoor who will be expected to anchor the secondary. While there are several players who have significant playing time under the belt, outside of Reid and Aanoor, everyone else will either be a first-time starter or will be in a completely new role this year. Despite the inexperience, reports from preseason scrimmages have been positive for the defense.
Realistically, there will be growing pains on both sides of the ball for Furman in 2017. The Paladins are likely to play an offense unlike any other team in the conference so they may give some teams problems at times, but this is likely to be a rebuilding year as players learn new roles and the coaching staff recruits for the new systems. As many of you know, I am a Furman grad and lifelong fan, but thinking with my head instead of my heart, I expect this to be a challenging season.