By Carey Phillips
Western Carolina will open the spring portion of its COVID-19 delayed football season Saturday at Furman.
Kickoff at Paladin Stadium is at 2 p.m.
While most Football Bowl Subdivision schools played in the fall, Football Championship Subdivision schools delayed their season until the spring. WCU will play eight Southern Conference games.
The Catamounts did play three games in the fall losing to Liberty, Eastern Kentucky and North Carolina.
The Paladins are the preseason favorite to win the league title, according to media voting. They did not play any fall games.
Furman leads the series 32-12-2 and has won the last four meetings, including 28-7 in 2019.
Coach Clay Hendrix’s team was 8-5 in 2019. The Paladins use a flexbone option on offense and a 3-4 defense.
Quarterback Darren Grainger returns after passing for 1,222 yards. Also back is, tailback Devin Wynn, who rushed for 1,182 yards.
Defensive standouts for the Paladins include linebacker Braden Gilby and defensive back Travis Blackshear.
Donnavan Spencer was WCU’s leading rusher in the fall with an average of 4.9 yards per carry.
Quarterback Will Jones averaged 85.3 passing yards and completed 50 percent of his attempts.
He alternated with Mark Wright, who announced in December that he was entering the NCAA transfer portal.
Spencer and Owen Cosenke both caught eight passes.
Coach Mark Speir recently announced the addition of assistant coach Joe Speed to the defensive staff. He comes to WCU after spending the past two years as both an offensive and defensive analyst at UCLA. He coached for 13 seasons under Western graduate Paul Johnson at Georgia Tech and Navy.
Speed takes over the position created when Reuben Wright accepted a job at South Florida in January.
Speed will serve as co-defensive coordinator and coach outside linebackers.
Speir also said that WCU Hall of Famer Clyde Simmons, who coached the defensive ends in the fall, will coach the defensive line, including tackles and nose guards.
Western inked five players in the February signing period. They are wide receivers Toler Keigley (Pensacola, Florida) and Miller DeArmond (Greer, South Carolina), linebackers Davis Ridings (Athens, Georgia) and Jerius Edwards (Carrollton, Georgia) and offensive lineman Anthony Giasante (North Huntingdon, Pennsylvania). None of the players from either of the signing periods are from North Carolina.
“I feel like we’ve added five really talented high school seniors to our class,” Speir said. “All five are outstanding student-athletes who come from really good football programs that have a tradition in winning. We feel like they help fill some of our needs on both sides of the football.”
While the spring schedule is about to begin, some fans may already be looking ahead to the fall. In a recently announced addition to the schedule, WCU will play at Oklahoma on Sept. 11.
The complete spring schedule is as follows:
Feb. 20 – at Furman; 27 – at Samford.
March 6 – Virginia Military; 13 – Citadel; 20 – at Mercer; 27 – at East Tennessee.
April 3 – UT-Chattanooga; 10 – Wofford.