A look at the overview of the 2019 season and previewing the offense
The success of Samford football is becoming a staple in Alabama each fall, much like Alabama and Auburn in the SEC, Troy in the Sun Belt and Jacksonville State in the Ohio Valley Conference.
The Bulldogs have posted eight-straight winning seasons, four FCS playoff appearances, a shared Southern Conference title, and now, a Walter Payton Award winner.
The Bulldogs failed to live up to lofty expectations in 2018. After being picked by the SoCon media and coaches to claim the Southern Conference regular-season crown, the Bulldogs could muster just a 6–5 overall record and a 5–3 mark in league play. It was only good enough for a fourth-place finish in the league standings last fall.
The Bulldogs did manage to beat the three teams that shared the 2018 Southern Conference title, however. The Bulldogs won at both East Tennessee State (38–27) and at Furman (38–25), while winning a home contest against Wofford (35–20).
Devlin Hodges set new FCS records for career passing yards (14,584 yds), completions (1,310), and pass attempts (1,896) en route to winning the Walter Payton Award. That means Hodges gives Samford head coach Chris Hatcher the distinction of having coached two players to win the Payton Award.
While Hatcher was head coach at Georgia Southern in 2007, quarterback Jayson Foster put one of the more remarkable campaigns together in FCS history for a running quarterback. Eleven years later, Hodges had one of the more remarkable seasons in FCS history for a passing quarterback.
Hatcher faces probably his biggest challenge-to-date as a head coach this fall. Not only do the Bulldogs have to replace Hodges under center, they must replace arguably the top defensive player in the Southern Conference over the past couple of seasons, in Ahmad Gooden.
“We don’t have the star power that maybe we have maybe had in the past, but I think this might be the closest-knit group we have had since I have been at Samford,” Samford head coach Chris Hatcher said.
The Bulldogs return 13 starters for the 2019 season, with seven returning on the offensive side of the football, while six return on defense. Samford opens the 2019 season on Aug. 24 against Youngstown State in the FCS Kickoff Classic in Montgomery, AL.
For the first time in four years, Samford will have a new man taking snaps from under center. The two players competing for the starting job will be both South Florida transfer Chris Oladokun and junior signal-caller Liam Welch.
Both bring different skill sets to the table, with Oladokun being more of a dual threat and Welch’s skill set being more like that of Hodges.
Oladokun is a 6–2, 195-lb, appeared in six games at South Florida in 2018, completing 22-of-44 passes for 285 yards and three touchdowns.
As a rushing threat for the Bulls, he finished the 2018 season with 19 yards on 25 attempts. The strong-armed gunslinging quarterback attended Sickles High School in Tampa, FL, where he was a three-star recruit according to 247Sports, Scout, and Rivals out of high school. He received scholarship offers from: Nebraska, Temple, Iowa State, Bowling Green, Georgia Southern, South Alabama and Toledo. The 6-2, 197-lb signal-caller is a dual-threat quarterback.
Welch, a 6–2, 194-lb native of Augusta, GA, has seen only limited action in his brief Samford career to this point, having connected on 14-of-20 passes for 119 yards and three scores in seven games, which have come mostly as a reserve in his Samford career.
Samford comes on a 2018 season, which saw it rank first in the nation in passing offense last fall.
The Bulldogs must not only find a new starter under center, but also a new go-to-wideout, as leading receiver Kelvin McKnight has graduated and like Hodges, is trying to make an NFL roster for the 2019 season. McKnight completed the 2018 season by hauling in 100 passes for 1,453 yards and nine scores, and was part of that monster season that Hodges put together in 2018. The Bulldogs will return three of their four starting receivers from a year ago.
Samford does return its second-leading wideout from a year ago, in senior Chris Shelling, but the question is how much did his receiving production benefit from having McKnight on the other side and Hodges throwing him the ball.
Last season, Shelling put up strong numbers and probably was one of the more underrated receivers in the Southern Conference because of McKnight, but in my opinion, he is every bit as talented. Shelling ended the season as Samford’s second-leading wideout, hauling in 63 passes for 688 yards and tied McKnight for the team-lead with nine scoring catches a year ago. He averaged 10.9 yards-per-catch.
Shelling enjoyed one of his best games of the 2018 season against VMI in a lopsided 73 — 22 win, as he hauled in 10 passes for 104 yards and three touchdowns. For his efforts last fall, Shelling was able to garner second-team All-SoCon honors, as selected by the league’s head coaches. For his career to date, Shelling has hauled in 143-career passes for 1,666 yards and has 16 receiving scores.
Teaming with the diminutive Shelling this fall will be Jai’Rus Creamer, who will be the top returning wideout this fall for the Bulldogs. At 6–4, 230 lbs, the Rome, GA, has NFL size and a great pair of hands. Last season, he had a breakout campaign for the Bulldogs, hauling in 30 passes for 335 yards and a touchdown, as he started as the ‘x’ wide receiver in the Samford offense last season.
For his career to this point, Creamer has proven to be more than a reliable asset for the Bulldog ‘Hatch Attack’ offense, having caught 42 passes for 561 yards and four scores for his career. Creamer had a
Rounding out the returning starters at wide receiver will be senior Yassar El-Amin. The 5–10, 175-lb speedster turned in his best season for the Bulldogs in 2018, as he hauled in 24 passes for 326 yards and had a touchdown catch. The native of Douglasville, GA, enters his final season in the red and navy, having hauled in 43 passes for 522 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
Set to compete to replace McKnight at wide receiver in fall camp will be likely to be Torrance Pollard. Pollard saw some quality action as a reserve wideout last fall for the Bulldogs, as he hauled in eight passes for 160 yards and a touchdown.
Keeping with the skill positions, the Bulldogs will return a solid tandem in the backfield, with both DeMarcus Ware and Moise Satine returning to the fold.
While Samford’s offensive attack isn’t known for featuring big-time ground-gainers under Chris Hatcher, but what it does do is have running backs that fill their roles and usually have game-breaking speed. Ware fits that exact profile, and he’s back looking to build off what was a strong freshman season.
Ware capped off his first season in Birmingham by rushing for 429 yards and seven scores on 87 attempts, averaging 4.9 YPC. Ware isn’t the typical between-the-tackles running threat, but he is a threat to take it the distance if he gets to the outside. He ranked fourth on the team in receving last fall, completing the campaign with 27 catches for 156 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Ware was a SoCon All-Freshman Team pick last season.
The elusive sophomore running back will team with the ever-versatile Moise Satine. Satine has been a reliable runner and receiver in his two seasons as a Bulldog, and rushed nine times for 67 yards last fall, playing behind Roland Adams. He also hauled in seven passes for 50 yards in 2018.
As a freshman two years ago, Satine rushed for 272 yards a pair of scores back in 2017. Satine’s combination of speed and power in the Samford backfield will help off-set the tremendous speed that Ware brings the Samford running game.
The offensive line welcomes the return of four of five starters from a year ago and the unit could very well be the strength of the Samford offense, and has the potential to be one of the best offensive line units in the SoCon once again in 2019.
Samford will once again have not only one of the most-experienced offensive lines in the Southern Conference, but also will have the largest front in the league and one of the biggest in FCS football.
Set to anchor the Bulldogs’ offensive line this fall will be left tackle 2018 second-team All-SoCon selection (coaches) Nick Nixon. Nixon will being the 2019 season as a preseason First-Team All-SoCon selection. He is part of four returning starters that helped the Bulldogs rank fourth nationally in total offense (515.9 YPG) last fall.
Nixon, who will likely find himself in consideration for the Jacobs Blocking Award this season, will team with right guard Mike Williams, center Brendan Loftus, and left guard George Grimwade. The lone loss due to graduation was right tackle Antwan Johnson, who was a second-team All-SoCon selection (coaches) last fall. Stepping in to replace Johnson this fall will be sophomore Gavin Orr.
Despite attempting the second-most passes in the SoCon last season (561 attempts), Samford was tied for third in sacks allowed with Chattanooga, yielding just 17 quarterback takedowns.
Overall, it will be a more challenging season offensively for the Bulldog offense, however, the unit will still be one of the best in the SoCon, thanks in large part to four starters back on the offensive line, three at wide receiver, and with the running back position already having plenty of experience.
The question of how good this offense can be will depend on how effective the Bulldogs can be at quarterback, which is key to any offense.