After Furman played seven real football games in the spring of 2021 after COVID-19 postponed the fall 2020 season, Paladins coach Clay Hendrix was happy to return to the traditional spring game this year.
Furman’s annual purple and white scrimmage took place on a blustery Saturday at Paladin Stadium in front of fans, player families and about 300 high school hopefuls.
The day started with a fan party that included food trucks, live music and kids’ activities. Attention then shifted inside the stadium, where Furman performed training drills followed by a 45-minute scrum. It ended with an autograph session on the pitch.
Furman’s spring game differs from the others in that the “purple” team is all offensive, while the “white” is defensive, primarily due to the size of the roster. Therefore, there was no “final score”, not that there were many points anyway. The longest play of the day was a 25-yard touchdown by Dominic Roberto, which accounted for half the score.
The only other score came from deep in the back board on a 22-yard touchdown pass from Trey Wainwright to Lex Capitano. The only other play over 12 yards was two more 22-yard passes — from Jace Wilson to Dejuan Bell and from Wilson to All-American tight end Ryan Miller, who will be back for a fifth season this fall.
“My first thought is that our two Ds (first and second defensive team) are well ahead of our two O’s (first and second offensive team), but sometimes that can be a bit expected. We had good energy overall,” Hendrix said. “I think we had a really good focus all spring and a good day’s work today.”
Roberto appeared to pick up where he left off in the fall of 2021, when he rushed for 512 yards in Furman’s last three games while he had 36 yards on five carries on Saturday. A new running back who should be in the mix this fall, Grant Robinson, had 27 yards on four carries with the second-team offense.
Hendrix said Robinson and fellow Texan Myion Hicks made a strong impression this spring.
Hicks sat out Saturday with a hamstring injury. The emergence of these two freshman backs along with the known abilities of Roberto and Devin Abrams helped the coaching staff decide to move Wayne Anderson to receiver. Anderson, who averaged more than five yards per carry in his career, also caught 30 passes out of the backfield.
“Dominic and Devin had a really good spring and even raised their games. Those four guys (including Robinson and Hicks) really stood out. They can all push stacks and break tackles,” Hendrix said. gave Wayne a chance to move to a location He couldn’t practice due to wrist surgery (receiver) Luke Shiflet couldn’t go this spring Those guys and a few guys who get to that position are going to have a chance to play.”
Going by Saturday, Wilson and Bell seemed to have good chemistry. Bell had four receptions for 43 yards, not including a 16-yard touchdown catch that was nullified by an illegal formation penalty.
After jumping into college ball as a rookie last season, Wilson spent his first spring training learning under new offensive coordinator Jordan Roper. Roper, who spent the previous two seasons as Holy Cross’ offensive coordinator, replaced George Quarles who left to take the head coaching job at East Tennessee State.
“This spring has been important for me mentally. Coach Roper is doing an amazing job. My readings are faster and I feel like I worked on everything I said I needed to work on this spring,” Wilson said. “Just building our chemistry together in this new attack has been really good.”
After splitting his time with Hamp Sisson for much of last season, Wilson is looking to take full-time command this year. In January, Sisson announced he was quitting football to focus on medical school. Wilson will have more competition in the fall, however, when former Presbyterian starting quarterback Tyler Huff officially joins the team as part of Furman’s new grad transfer program.
“I was very happy with Jace. He made the progress you hoped he would make by being a real freshman thrown into the fire. He is clearly better. It’s not where it needs to be, but it’s made of good material,” Hendrix said. “It will help to have a little more competition in this position. It makes us all better and he realizes that too.
Although there weren’t a ton of attacks on Saturday, play was pretty clean on both sides of the ball aside from a few too many offensive penalties. The only turnover resulted in a fumble recovered by Bryce McCormick.
Furman will have one more practice Monday night to wrap up the spring. The Paladins will then move on to the next chapter of the offseason.
“We have to make a lot of progress, especially until we get out of school. We will try to win the next phase and the next phase will be in April in the weight room and off-season speed development,” Hendrix said. “I think we have the makings of a very good football team. We need to bring some guys here that we haven’t had, which will definitely help us when we train again in August.