By Alan Goldenbach
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 4, 2009
It's always been about numbers with Josh Furman, eye-popping numbers that elicit both amazement and doubt.
Did a 6-foot-2, 200-pounder really run 40 yards in 4.36 seconds, as Furman was reported to have done at a combine in April 2008? Did that same running back-linebacker really post a 42-inch vertical leap at another combine last May? Does that player go to a school like Old Mill, which has no history of producing a recruit of his caliber?
"I kind of had to prove myself this season," said Furman, who has whittled down his college choices to Michigan and Virginia Tech, "and back up those numbers."
Here are a few more of Furman's numbers that should remove any remaining doubt: 2,272 rushing yards and 31 touchdowns, and an 11-2 record for the ninth-ranked Patriots as they head into Friday's Maryland 4A final against No. 6 Wise at M&T Bank Stadium. He has all but put the Patriots on his shoulders in these playoffs, posting a stunning 414 yards and six touchdowns in a 58-55 double-overtime win over Arundel in a region final, and adding 201 yards in the mud last week in the state semifinal, a 20-13 win over defending champion Sherwood in which Furman rushed for two touchdowns, including the game-winner with 17 seconds remaining.
He has 18 highlight clips on YouTube, one of which has nearly 5,000 hits.
Old Mill, which has advanced to the playoffs 11 straight years, has seldom enjoyed postseason success. In only three of their past 10 trips did the Patriots win a playoff game. Only once (2005) did they reach the semifinals.
"We've always been a team that's been one and done, or maybe we'd win one game," Furman said. "To get this far, it means a lot. Now, we just have to finish it."
Furman has one final chapter to write in a high school career that started with a bang.
His first significant playing time came in Week 7 of the 2006 season, as Old Mill was staring at two straight losses after falling behind South River in the first half. First-year Patriots Coach Damian Ferragamo decided to insert Furman, an undersize freshman, at defensive end in the second half, hoping to trigger some sort of spark.
"South River was kind of giving it to us," Ferragamo said, "and I figured if we lose, we're going to lose with young kids."
In a game that has become legendary around Old Mill, Furman went wild, leading the Patriots to a 29-22 comeback victory, and posting what coaches believe were five sacks in the second half, "though that number seems to grow each time the story is told," assistant coach Jason Dunlap said. "One time, I heard someone tell it and [Furman] had seven" sacks.
After the season, Furman's parents divorced. He moved with family to spend his sophomore year at Annapolis. But it was a difficult transition. Furman said he had hoped to get a chance to play running back, and didn't. Throughout the season, he said he stayed in contact with then-Old Mill defensive coordinator Ben Thompson, who would send Furman messages on his MySpace page, "You're still wanted here."
Furman moved in with his father, Tyrone, a nose guard at Maryland in the early 1980s, and returned to Old Mill as a junior. By the time his junior year had begun, Furman's 40-yard time already was making him a hot recruiting commodity.
"The thing was, when we got him back, we didn't really know what to do with him on the field," said Dunlap, who has handled all of Furman's recruiting. "You could put him at defense, and watch him do what he did [against South River] or you can put him at running back and use his speed. It's the same thing with colleges. I don't think they really know what to do with him.
"But the one thing we knew was he was going to be something special."
After his junior season, Maryland and West Virginia had extended scholarship offers. Then, last February, Dunlap was leafing through a pile of recruiting mail for Furman and tossed aside several form letters from schools that are typically sent to jog a recruit's attention. One of them was from Michigan, but Dunlap had a second thought and picked it out of the garbage.
"Then I read it," Dunlap said, "and when I got to the part where it said, 'full athletic scholarship,' I ran down the hall to tell him about it."
Furman's first major offer from a school outside of the region set off a frenzy. Oklahoma requested Furman's highlight tape. The school received it on a Saturday, and Furman had an offer from the Sooners three days later.
After those two offers, "Oh, it's on now," Furman said. "They started coming like crazy. Every week, a new school was coming in."
"That's when we had to come up with a plan to handle this," Dunlap said, "because it could get out of hand."
As this season started, though, the pressure was on Furman, who is being recruited primarily as a linebacker, to show he didn't just get lucky at a couple of combines.
"He wanted to prove he wasn't a combine freak," Tyrone Furman said. "That was a big part of his drive this season."
Nothing proved that more than Furman's amazing game in the win over Arundel. His game last week at Sherwood, on a field so muddy coaches on both teams likened it to "quicksand" merely added emphasis.
"Being a defensive player in high school, a lot of times you don't get noticed," Arundel quarterback Billy Cosh said. "When he started running as much as he did this season, I think everyone saw what a great player he is."