As the semester begins to come to a close, coach Chris Hatcher and the Samford football team have been hard at work over the past several weeks of spring practice. After coming off of a 6-5 season that saw the Bulldogs miss out on the FCS playoffs, the team will loom to replace key players at several positions next season.
On the offensive side of the ball, the Bulldogs will be returning seven starters, four of which will be returning to an offensive line that proved to be an extremely strong unit last season.
“Spring practice is going very well and everyone’s competing extremely hard,” said redshirt sophomore offensive lineman Mike Williams. “The defense has done an exceptional job especially on defensive line.”
In the receiving game, junior Jai’Rus Creamer, junior Yassir El-Amin, and senior Chris Shelling will all be back from a talented receiving corp that will need to replace Kelvin McKnight, who led the team last season with 100 receptions for 1,453 yards and nine touchdowns.
The Bulldogs return top rusher in sophomore DeMarcus Ware, who had 429 yards and seven touchdowns last season. Younger backs such as sophomores Moise Satine and Antwione Sims will be expected to step up and fill holes in the rushing attack along with Ware.
The largest hole to file for the Bulldogs offense will undoubtedly be the quarterback position. Devlin Hodges graduated from Samford holding countless school, conference, and even a few national records, most notably the record for all-time passing yards in FCS history. Not only did he carry with him his records/stats, but the knowledge of the offense and his invaluable in-game experience will be something that offensive coordinator Russ Callaway will need to replace.
Two main candidates have emerged this spring to potentially fill the much needed hole for the Bulldogs. Junior Liam Welch and sophomore Chris Oladokun have both been getting reps with the first-team offense this spring and have been working hard each and every practice.
In an interview with Samford Athletics after the second scrimmage of the spring, coach Hatcher talked about how he has seen good things out of both players, but would like to see more consistency before he is ready to name a starter.
“The quarterback race is still up in the air,” Hatcher said. “Both of them have had good days and bad days. I just want to see a guy who is going to be consistent and be able to lead the team.”
Welch, who has had to sit in the shadows of Hodges for the better part of the last three seasons, completed four of his six passes last season and has played mostly in mop-up duty for Samford the last three seasons.
Oladokun is new to the team this spring, having spent the last two seasons at South Florida. While playing for the Bulls, the Tampa, Florida, native completed 23 of 45 passes for 297 and three touchdowns in four starts.
“The offense has been trying to find a rhythm with both Liam (Welch) and Chris (Oladokun),” said Mike Williams. “Both are competing extremely well and shows ton of potential.”
With the competition for starting quarterback in full swing, it will definitely take some time to make a final decision. Oladokun brings with him a bit more experience, while Welch has been around the program for the last three years and has been able to get a handle on the offense, as well as learn under Hodges. Whichever player is named the Bulldogs’ starter, the Samford offense should keep the same identity, which consists of a pass-heavy playbook.
On the defensive side, the Bulldogs return six starters, but also must replace Ahmad Gooden who was a force on the defensive line. A rather veteraned secondary to go along with a defensive line that returns several key members should help the Bulldogs improve on their 26 points per game given up last season.
Overall, Coach Hatcher seemed to be pleased from what he has seen out of his team this spring, while making note of the team’s new addition and the impact that group has had.
“All-in-all, it’s been a good spring,” Hatcher said. “We just have a lot of new bodies and a lot of new faces that we’re trying to figure out what they can do well. I think we’ve gotten better in some areas we need to improve in, but we have a long way to go. We have some good senior leadership, but we have a lot of new faces that haven’t taken a lot of snaps that are going to have to play and play a lot for us this season.”
Samford will officially end spring practice on April 19 with their third and final scrimmage of the spring. Samford’s will open up its 2019 season by playing in the 2019 Guardian Credit Union FCS Kickoff Game against Youngstown State in Montgomery, Alabama, on Aug. 24. The game will be played in the historic Cramton Bowl and can be seen on ESPN.
Collin is a sports writer for The Crimson. He is a senior finance major.