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MICHAEL SHROYER | Special to The Roanoke Times April 13, 2019 Virginia Tech Hokies wide receiver Damon Hazelton (14) celebrates following his touchdown during the Spring Game at Lane Stadium in Blacksburg, Va.

Editor’s note: The Roanoke Times is taking an early look at every game on Virginia Tech’s 2019 schedule. Check back every Tuesday and Thursday this summer for a new preview.

Virginia Tech fans know the pitfalls of facing an opponent from the Football Championship Subdivision.  

The Hokies’ 21-16 loss to James Madison at Lane Stadium in 2010 is still an open wound. The then No. 13 Hokies became only the second ranked FBS team ever to loss to a FCS team.

Furman has a history of success against FBS programs with its last win coming in 2015 over Central Florida.

Should Virginia Tech be worried about Furman's visit to Lane Stadium on Sept. 14? They probably don’t have to be overly concerned. Furman has a couple of talented playmakers, but Virginia Tech’s offensive firepower will be hard for the Paladins to match up against with only one returning starter in the secondary and only one defensive back taller than 6-feet.

That group is going to struggle to matchup against a lineup that will feature Damon Hazelton, Tre Turner, Dalton Keene and James Mitchell on the field at the same time.

Last year vs. Virginia Tech: N/A

What happen? Virginia Tech is 6-0 against Furman, but four of those matchups came prior to 1950. The Hokies more recent wins over Furman included a 42-3 victory in 2015 and a 24-7 win in 2008. Both games were played at Lane Stadium.

Position(s) of strength: Furman finished the 2018 season winning four straight and six of its last seven games to claim a share of the 2018 Southern Conference. The Paladins return 16 starters from the team (eight on offense, six on defense and two on special teams).

That group includes a couple of playmakers Virginia Tech has to keep an eye on.

Furman defensive end Adrian Hope burst onto the scene last year as a redshirt freshman. The defender was named to the AP All-America third team and finished fourth in the voting for the 2018 STATS Jerry Rice Award (given to the top freshman in FCS). Hope had 32 tackles (16.5 for a loss) and a FCS leading 15 sacks. He also led the Southern Conference with five forced fumbles.

On the other side of the ball, Furman has an emerging playmaker as well in running back Devin Wynn. Wynn had 113 carries for 754 yards and six touchdowns. The bulk of that production came down the stretch with Furman making a run to a conference title. Wynn averaged 102 yards (6.6 yards per carry) and a touchdown per game over the team’s final five games. He closed out the year with a career high 28 carries for 135 yards in a 35-30 win over Mercer.

Virginia Tech had one of the worst rushing defenses in the country last season. The Hokies allowed more than 210 yards per game and only four teams in all of FBS (130 teams) allowed more rushing plays that went for 30 yards or more (20). Furman has three players competing to replace last year’s starter Harris Roberts.

Darren Grainger, Jack Hardin and Hamp Sisson competed during the spring. Grainger and Sisson played as freshmen last season, but still redshirted thanks to the NCAA’s rule changes. Hardin, a redshirt sophomore, didn’t play in 2018.

Grainger started a shortened spring game at the end of February going 3 of 7 for 32 yards. Sisson threw for 46 yards (4 of 6) and Hardin was 4 of 4 for 55 yards.

"I thought all three of those guys did some good things today," Hendrix said, after the team's spring game. "That's how it's been all spring.  When you have some young guys, you're going to go thru some growing pains. We've had that, but the thing about them is they come and they work.  The key for them has to be continuing that throughout the summer. They are completely different guys since the start of practice in August."

Hendrix wasn’t ready to name a front runner for the starting job at the end of spring camp.

Lingering questions: Furman coach Clay Hendrix is entering his third season. He’s done well leading the program to a 14-9 overall record including a playoff appearance and league title. 

One hallmark of Hendrix’s tenure he’d like to change that goes back to the team's previous coach as well is a slow start to the season. The Paladins opened 0-6 in coach Bruce Fowler's final season and lost their first three games each of the past two years while giving up more than 35 points in those losses. The slow start last year came with nine returning starters on defense.

One change Hendrix made before last season was to move up the team’s spring camp to late January (the earliest start date in all of FCS). Furman opened spring early again this year (Jan. 25) and wrapped up camp by the end of February before the university’s spring break. The unique schedule allows Furman to focus on strength and conditioning work for months. Will it pay off in the fall? That remains to be seen.

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Mike Niziolek is the Virginia Tech football beat writer for The Roanoke Times. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

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