GREENVILLE, S.C. — Of all the positional groups within Furman’s football program, no area is more lacking in experience than tight end heading into the 2017 campaign.
The graduation of solid three-year starter and NCAA Post-Graduate Scholar Duncan Fletcher (29 rec., 277 yds., 2 TDs in ‘16) and veteran performer Kevin Mall (5 rec., 40 yds., 2 TDs in ‘16) has left the Paladin tight end corps with zeros in terms of career starts and receptions, thus making for a bit of drama in the preseason to see who will emerge at the position, which will take on a multi-dimensional role within Furman’s new offense.
“Tight end might be the most wide open position on our football team,” said new Furman head coach Clay Hendrix following Thursday morning’s practice. “We have very little experience there, and we’re asking them to do some different things than probably what they’ve been asked to do in the past. But we’re making progress. It’s a position that may go another week or two before it gets settled.”
The preseason roster features four tight ends, including redshirt junior Ajay Williams, sophomore Evan Vaughn, redshirt freshman Caleb Auer, and true freshman Jake Walker.
“Caleb Auer is probably at the top of the list right now,” said Hendrix about the 6-foot-3, 244-pound Buford, Ga., product who originally signed with Army before joining the Furman program in the summer of 2016.
“Evan Vaughn, who also snaps for us, has done some good things,” said Hendrix, “as has Ajay Williams,” who at 6-foot-5, 267 pounds is easily the biggest player in the group.
The Paladins picked up Walker, a rangy 6-foot-4, 233-pound Cartersville, Ga., native, in mid-July after he spent last year at Air Fore Prep following a solid high school career at Darlington School, where he played alongside fellow Paladin freshman safety Elijah McKoy and defensive end Landon Lawrence.
“For us it’s really just deciding how we want to use that position,” added Hendrix. “We’ve got a couple of different ways to utilize it in our offense, so we’re trying to fit the skill set we have with what we want to do.”
The tight end development process will no doubt be aided by new position coach George Quarles, who returned to his alma mater in January following an ultra-successful head coaching career at Maryville (Tenn.) High School, where posted a 250-16 (.939) record in 18 seasons and was the most successful prep coach by percentage in America over the last 10 years.
“George has been really good with those kids, not only as a coach but as a voice in that room.
“They are one of those groups that every day seem to be getting better, and that’s what you’re looking for.”