After coming off of a first round FCS playoff exit and an overall record of 8-4, coach Chris Hatcher and the Samford football team wrapped up spring practice this past Friday. Spring practice serves as a time for young players to step up and for the team as a whole to build chemistry, work on schemes and strategies for the upcoming season.
Hatcher believed that his team had a strong spring and liked what he saw out of the group.
“I thought we had a good spring,” Hatcher said. “We were able to get a look at a lot of young guys, especially at certain positions defensively. We’re going to have a lot of inexperience there, so we were able to get some good work with those guys, to have a baseline heading into summer practice for us.”
Ten starters will return on the offensive side of the ball, while only returning six starters on defense.
The offense will be led by two-time SoCon Offensive player of the Year, senior quarterback Devlin Hodges. Throughout his career, Hodges has thrown for 10,301 yards and 79 touchdowns and has established himself as a leader both on and off the field for the Bulldogs.
In an interview with Samford Athletics, Hodges commented on how he has contributed his leadership skills to the team.
“I feel like I’ve been a leader for the team ever since I’ve been playing,” Hodges said. “My teammates have voted me team captain every year, which has been a tremendous blessing. So, I don’t want to approach it any differently, just because it’s my senior year. I just want to keep doing what I’m doing, just trying to make the team the best we can be.”
On offense, dynamic receivers in senior Kelvin McKnight and junior Chris Shelling will also return. The two combined for 2,086 and 19 touchdowns last season. All five of the starters on the offensive line for the Bulldogs returns as well, which will be key if Hodges is to continue putting up his record setting numbers.
“Just lead the other, younger guys coming up and play my role,” said Shelling on what he would like to accomplish this upcoming season. “Everybody knows we’re explosive, we can score fast and everybody’s coming back and it’s going to be the same repeat but even better.”
On the defensive side of the ball, senior Horace Roberts will help anchor a defense that gave up 22 points a game last season.
“I feel like it’s my responsibility to help these younger guys come up and get prepared for the season,” said Roberts. “There’s a lot of young guys getting better. There’s guys trying to get it down together trying to learn so they can step up and fill the shoes of the guys that were here last year.”
Seniors Ahmad Gooden and Christian Stark will also play key roles on the defensive side of the ball for the Bulldogs.
“It’s kind of bittersweet because this is my last (season),” said redshirt defensive lineman Gooden. “I will miss it honestly, miss being out here with these guys everyday you can’t get this back so I’m just going to keep working for this team.”
Hatcher mentioned a few players that he thought really showed up and played well this spring.
“I thought Nelson Jordan really came along,” Hatcher said. “I think he is going to be a really, really good football player for us, on the defensive line. I think Matthew Pittarelli is a guy that we’ve been kind of waiting to come along. We moved him to guard and he had a really good spring, so he’ll be able to provide some excellent depth on the offensive line.”
Overall, Hatcher said he believes his team had a productive spring and looks forward to seeing how that will play out on the field this fall.
“Fortunately for us, we came out very healthy,” Hatcher said. “We had a couple of minor injuries, but I really believe that we got better at the fundamentals and just the base schemes that we need to build upon as we head into next season.”
Samford opens the season at home on Aug. 30 against Shorter University. Other key matchups include trips to Florida State (Sept. 8), Kennesaw State (Sep. 29), Furman (Oct. 20), and The Citadel (Nov. 10).
Collin Reese, Staff Writer
[photo courtesy of Bill Dorsten]