GREENVILLE, S.C. -- The reigning Southern Conference champion Furman Paladins kick off the 2014 season on Saturday against the Gardner-Webb Runnin' Bulldogs in a 7:00 p.m. clash at Paladin Stadium.
The contest will mark the opening of the 109th season of football at Furman, which is coming off a 2013 campaign that netted the program its SoCon best 13th league championship. Ranked 18th and 21st in a pair of Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) preseason polls, Furman returns 15 starters off last year's squad that won six of its final eight games to grab a share of the SoCon crown and league's automatic berth into the FCS playoffs — the program's first since 2006.
Saturday's game will be radio broadcast over the Furman IMG Sports Network headed up by flagship station WGOG 96.3/Walhalla and FoxSports 1440/Greenville. It will also be available via Paladin Stadium transmitter 96.7 and audio streamed via TuneIn.com. The video live stream of Saturday's contest will be presented through the SoConDigitalNetwork.com — also accessible through FurmanPaladins.com.
StatBroadcast live stats will also be available to fans via FurmanPaladins.com
The contest will mark a rematch of last year's opener between the Paladins and Runnin' Bulldogs — a contest Gardner-Webb rallied to win, 28-21, in Boiling Springs, N.C. The last time the two schools met in Paladin Stadium Furman raced to a 42-10 early second half lead on the way to a 48-31 triumph during the 2005 season.
Furman leads the all-time series 3-1.
The Paladins are led offensively by junior quarterback Reese Hannon, the Greer, S.C., native and preseason All-SoCon pick who overcame early season injuries last year to pass for 1,748 yards and seven touchdowns. Hannon suffered a strained oblique in the 2013 preseason and did not play in the loss to Gardner-Webb, giving way to then true freshman Dillon Woodruff, who passed for 123 yards and touchdown before sustaining a season ending shoulder injury.
The Paladin backfield sports senior All-SoCon running back Hank McCloud, the SoCon's top returning rusher (1,092 yds., 5 TDs in '13).
Headlining Furman's wide receiving corps is sophomore Andrej Suttles, a preseason all-conference pick who emerged at midseason to lead the squad with 50 catches for 697 yards and three touchdowns. Redshirt junior Jordan Snellings (30 rec., 302 yds., 1 TD) is also back.
Furman's offensive front sports three returning regulars but must overcome the graduation of consensus All-America tackle Dakota Dozier, a 2014 fourth round NFL Draft pick of the New York Jets.
Defensively, consensus All-SoCon end Gary Wilkins headlines a group of seven returning starters, having compiled 79 tackles, including 13 for-loss, and 5.5 sacks last year. His 98-yard interception return for a touchdown keyed Furman to a 27-10 win over Appalachian State, which ignited the Paladins' second half surge.
He will be joined on the line by the full cast of regulars from a year ago, including senior preseason all-conference end Ira McCune (47 tackles, 8 TFL, 2.5 sacks, SoCon best 4 FR), and tackles John Mackey (58 tackles, 4 TFL), a junior, and sophomore Jordan Hawkins (22 tackles, 2.5 TFL, 1 sack).
Furman's linebacking corps will be minus injured All-SoCon performer Carl Rider, a junior who led the squad with 136 tackles last year.
Two starters are back in the Paladin secondary, including senior nickel back Marcus McMorris (113 tackles, 9 TFL, 2 sacks, 2 INT) and junior cornerback Reggie Thomas (63 tackles, 2 INT).
Paladin special teams are charged with replacing graduated All-SoCon placekicker/punter Ray Early.
Furman is under the direction of 2013 SoCon Coach of the Year Bruce Fowler, who is entering his fourth season at the helm of the Paladin program.
Hunter Reid, Furman Sports Information