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Furman Preseason Preview: Offensive Line

Matthew Schmidt
Matthew Schmidt

GREENVILLE, S.C. -- The December hiring of head coach Clay Hendrix, a 10-year veteran offensive line coach at Air Force and long-time Furman assistant coach (1988-06), was a clear signal of the Paladins' desire to re-establish an effective ground attack that proved central to many of the Paladins' Southern Conference leading 13 league championships.

In 2005, Hendrix's next to last year in a 19-year stretch as the Paladins' offensive line coach, Furman averaged 246.9 rushing yards per game and ran for 42 touchdowns. Over the last decade the Paladins haven't come close to either figure.

While a successful running game is an unquestioned goal, don't look for Furman to ultimately be a one-trick pony offensively.  In fact, it's balance, the type that for years kept opposing defenses on their heels when faced with a potent Furman ground attack and highly efficient passing game, that is the ultimate objective according to the Paladins' new mentor, who counts two returning starters among a group that otherwise sports very little depth.

"We want to be balanced, but that doesn't always mean 50-50 in how we'll go about it, said Hendrix following a recent preseason practice.  "It all starts for us with the running game, because I believe if you can run it, you can throw it, and that's what we'll do.  To get there we'll change our philosophy a bit — everything from leaning guys up and playing athletic linemen who are can move with really good pad level, and who are physical, assignment sound, play hard, and come off the ball."

"You'll see some option, power game, and we'll still throw the football and protect.  We won't sacrifice one for the other."

To aid in the reshaping of Furman's offensive line, Hendrix entrusted former Air Force Academy pupil, offensive guard Peter Lusk, as line coach.  In Lusk's three seasons as a starter, the Falcons ranked among the top six Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) programs nationally in rushing offense.

Heading the list of returning veterans is All-SoCon center Matthew Schmidt, a three-year, 26-game starter who has also registered notable duty at tackle.  The unit's most experienced performer and owner of more than 1,600 snaps in his career, the 6-foot-3, 290-pound Stokesdale, N.C., native is the unquestioned anchor of the offensive front.

The other returning starter is senior guard Terrell Bush, who logged starts in all 11 games a year ago and owns a combined 18 starts over the past three seasons.  The Tuscaloosa, Ala., product's 1,377 play participations will no doubt big a big asset.

"Matt is a heckuva football player," said Hendrix.  "I think of some of the greats we've had here, and he fits right in that line.  He's athletic, tough, smart, and a can play any position.  He's also a great leader for us.

"He and Terrell are both four-year seniors who've played a  lot of football.  Terrell has made a lot of progress from the spring to now.  It's tough as a senior to adapt to a totally new system, but he's handled it very well.  

"Those two guys need to play well for us because we have no juniors in the offensive line," added Hendrix.  "We've got a bunch of young guys, but we're really thin up there overall.  It's important for us to continue to develop."

That development will be centered around a core of players, including redshirt sophomores Andy Godwin, Chris Breedlove, and Jonathan Bockhorst, true sophomore Jacob Conrad, and redshirt freshmen Reed Kroeber, Bo Layton, and Cody Wyatt.

Godwin, Breedlove, and Bockhorst saw their first playing time a year ago — albeit a combined 143 snaps.  Still, Godwin is expected to contend for the starting job at right tackle and Breedlove at right guard after making solid progress in the spring.

Conrad showed promise as a true freshman in 2016, seeing action in five games, earning a pair of starts (at tackle), and registering 173 plays before a knee injury effectively ended his season.

Kroeber has made important strides to put himself in the mix for the starting job at left tackle.  Layton, who was sidelined last year following a knee injury sustained in high school, has shown glimpses of potential, as has Wyatt at guard.

Said Hendrix, "I've told our guys they will ultimately be judged on how well they play as a group, so we've got to get five guys playing together.  It's up to us as coaches to put them in position to be successful and win."

Wednesday, August 8 Post-Practice Interview - Head Coach Clay Hendrix

FURMAN NOTES

The Paladins are scheduled to continue preseason drills on Wednesday, with the practice time and location to be determined.  Furman conducted practices Monday and Tuesday morning in Paladin Stadium due to wet weather concerns.  A total of 93 players are taking part in preseason practice.  Furman's Mast General Store-Ingles FanFest is set for Saturday, Aug. 19 from 5:30-7:00 p.m. at Fluor Field in downtown Greenville.  Earlier that day the squad will practice in Sirrine Stadium from 11:00 a.m. - 1:00 p.m.  Sirrine Stadium served as the home of Furman football from 1936-80 prior to the construction and occupancy of Paladin Stadium on Furman's campus beginning with the 1981 season.

Hunter Reid, Furman Sports Information