By: Bryce Caputo, Contributor
With frost on the turf and sight by stadium lights, the Furman football team began spring practice at 6 a.m. Friday, Jan. 25. With seven months until the team’s home opener against Charleston Southern, coach Clay Hendrix took the reigning 2018 Southern Conference champions back to the fundamentals.
The NCAA allows 15 spring football practices that the Paladins must use wisely. With the same returning coaching staff and two seasons in the Hendrix-era in the books, the team already has an advantage in continuity.
A new rule added to the 2018 season allows players to participate in a maximum of four games and still retain their redshirt and extra year of eligibility. The Paladins used this rule to their advantage last year, substituting freshmen for injured players or giving young talent a taste of experience. The team not only benefited by retaining all but four of the freshman redshirts, but the starters also gained better competition from scout team players during the 2018 practices. “It helps keep the guys engaged,” coach Hendrix said of the new rule. With four chances to play and still retain a fifth year of eligibility, the freshmen had a reason to compete. The experience gained in 2018 is just the beginning.
Keeping the same schemes, Hendrix has decided to bring the team back to the fundamentals, where the players can polish their techniques in their position groups, and in turn, bring that perfection together as a team. From individual basics to team offense-versus-defense drills, fundamentals dictate the gameplay.
Furman was the first Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) team in the country to start spring practice this year. Why the early start? The easy answer: a spaced out spring practice before spring break, with strength training to follow. All of this put together breeds a recipe for success — especially important with special plans for next season.
For the first time since 2014, the Paladins have 12 games on their schedule. The season opener against Charleston Southern,also a first-time opponent,on Aug. 31 sets the stage for six home games and two consecutive Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) opponents in Georgia State Sept. 7 and Virginia Tech Sept. 14.
The clock is ticking, and the Paladins plan to be ready. Though it is too early to predict any break out players or even the starting quarterback, position battles have already begun. The fight to be named starting quarterback appears to be between redshirt freshman Darren Grainger and Hamp Sisson and redshirt sophomore Jack Hardin, and even fifteen practices can make a difference.
“They all have ability and understand what we’re trying to get done,” coach Hendrix said of the quarterback situation. With only three candidates, all three of them will get quality reps with an experienced supporting cast. The players have seven months to improve their technique and get stronger, with no better time to start than now.
The team’s spring scrimmage is Saturday, Feb. 23 at 1:00 p.m.