GREENVILLE, S.C. -- Despite key losses to graduation, Furman's secondary, under new management this year with defensive coordinator/safeties coach Chad Staggs and cornerbacks coach Addison Williams, is in good hands with an eye toward development, according to head coach Clay Hendrix.
"Chad has been a phenomenal hire for us," said Hendrix of the Landrum, S.C., native and former Charleston Southern defensive coordinator who over the last four seasons split two-year stints directing CSU's linebackers and defensive backs to notable individual and team success in the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS). "He is really, really good at what he does...he's demanding, smart, gets it, and relates very well with our players, who have great respect for him. You can sense our defense developing its own identity, and that's a direct reflection on him."
Joined by Williams, a former defensive coordinator at Tusculum (Tenn.) College, and two-year letterwinner as a defensive back at South Carolina, where Staggs at the time served as a graduate assistant, the new Paladin secondary coaching duo assumes a group that returns just one starter in safety Aaquil Annoor. Gone are All-SoCon safety Trey Robinson, a free agent signee of the New York Giants, and both starting cornerbacks.
Annoor, a junior, is a regarded as one of the best players in the Southern Conference, having earned league all-freshman teams honors in 2015 and preseason all-league laurels in July following a 2016 campaign that featured 62 tackles, seven pass deflections, and two fumble recoveries. In addition, the Nashville, Tenn., product is versatile, evidenced by his four starts at cornerback and starts at safety over the Paladins' final seven games a year ago.
Expected to compete for the other safety slot alongside Annoor are senior Sean Rusnak, a Greenville product, and sophomore Bryan Okey, a battle-tested, 6-foot-4, 212-pound performer who registered 17 tackles and a pair of starts last year against Chattanooga and Coastal Carolina
"Sean Rusnak's a local kid (St. Joseph's High School) who you love having on your football team. He's dependable and has made himself a really good football player through a lot of hard work and time on special teams. He's going to play a good bit for us, as will Bryan Okeh, a big, imposing guy who played a good bit a year ago as a true freshman."
The two players expected to move into starting cornerback roles include junior Jacque Evangelister and redshirt sophomore Quandarius Weems. Both players have logged quality action, with Evangelister appearing in 16 games over his first two seasons and Weems in 11 contests a year ago. In the spring Weems finished fourth in the 110m hurdles at the SoCon Track & Field Championships.
Depth at cornerback will likely come from Bradford Lemmons, a 6-foot-3 redshirt junior and converted wide receiver, and Jaylon Harden, a redshirt freshman. True true freshmen DiMarcus Clay and Darius Kearse could also figure into the mix.
"We feel pretty good about Jacque and Quandarius," added Hendrix. "They had good a good spring and productive summer. Brad also made the transition over from offense, and DiMarcus and Darius have been getting a lot of reps. When it comes down to it, there are probably six guys we're going to have to line up and play."
The youth in Furman's secondary puts a premium on development, which should be aided by the Paladins' wide open offense, according to Hendrix.
"Our offense presents a challenge for these guys (defense) every time out because they can line up and throw a lot of things at them. It hasn't made it easy, but the really good thing is it has made them put in a lot of energy and work really hard."
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Hunter Reid, Furman Sports Information