Football stadiums can be quiet places during the offseason, but Furman’s Paladin Stadium has been a center of activity since the 2012 season ended.
The Greenville school is working on a new 44,000-square foot football facility, put up a new pressbox on 33-year-old Paladin Stadium and installed a shiny new artificial turf on the field, all at a price tag of about $12 million.
“It means a lot, and we’re thankful for the opportunity to have it,” said third-year coach Bruce Fowler. “It’s going to be a tremendous asset to our program, just from a functional standpoint. And it will help us in the recruiting process.”
Fowler’s rebuilding of Furman’s football team is proceeding at a slower pace. Hired to replace Bobby Lamb after he went 11-11 in his last two seasons, Fowler is 9-13 after two years in Greenville.
The Paladins, who won the most recent of their 12 Southern Conference titles in 2004, have one of the youngest rosters in the league — 11 seniors and 59 freshmen and sophomores.
Preparation and execution will be key for this young squad, led by sophomore quarterback Reese Hannon.
“We’ve got to prepare better, that’s where it starts,” said Fowler, whose 3-8 team lost four games by a total of 13 points last year. “And then when we get in games, we’ve got to execute. How you respond in close games like we had last year, that comes in preparation.”
Redshirt junior Hank McCloud (5-8, 188) seems ready to step into the shoes of all-SoCon back Jerodis Williams as Furman’s chief runner, and tackle Dakota Dozier (6-5, 303) leads an offensive line that returns all five starters.
“I think I improved my stamina over the offseason,” said McCloud, who averaged 5.0 yards per carry and scored six TDs last year. “I haven’t been the star running back since high school. I’ve been behind Jerodis, and he was great, and now it’s my turn to carry the load.”
The Paladins are also counting on improvement from Hannon, a 6-0, 192-pounder who was pressed into starting duty last year as a freshman. He acquitted himself well, hitting 61.5 percent of his throws for 1,896 yards and seven TDs against six interceptions.
“Reese has been around a lot this summer getting better,” Dozier said. “I know he feels good having the entire offensive line coming back. That should definitely assist us in the running game as well.”
Furman’s main issues are on defense, where the Paladins ranked in the bottom third of the league in scoring (30.7 ppg) and total defense (399.9 ypg) last season. Only five starters and 13 lettermen return from that unit, so showing improvement will be a challenge.
Linebacker Gary Wilkins (6-2, 236) will move up to defensive end to shore up the line, leaving a young linebacking corps. The secondary is more experienced, with two starters and another regular contributor back.
The Paladins need a strong start, with a back-loaded schedule that includes Appalachian State, LSU, Georgia Southern, Samford and Wofford in the final six weeks.