Samford coach Chris Hatcher said his Bulldogs got off to a tough start in 2018. Despite that, his squad had a conference championship within its sights.
“We played Florida State down to the wire (in a 36-26 loss),” he recalled. “We got really beat up in that game, (and) were upset by Mercer the next week. Then we go on the road to play Kennesaw State, a Top 5 team.”
After a slow start, the Bulldogs got on a good run before yielding a big second-half lead to conference foe Citadel.
“That was just one game that was really the difference in us being conference champions and finishing in the middle of the pack,” Hatcher said. “We played the last six games of the year and we played one bad half and that half was what ended up separating us from being a champion and a near-champion.”
Samford (6-5 overall) wound up 5-3 in the Southern Conference behind a trio of 6-2 teams. Hatcher and his Bulldogs will bid to improve their finish during the 2019 season, which kicks off on ESPN against Youngstown State at 2 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 24, in the Guardian Credit Union FCS Kickoff at Cramton Bowl in Montgomery.
Alabama NewsCenter: What is the outlook for this season?
Chris Hatcher: We lost (quarterback) Devlin Hodges, we lost (wide receiver) KJ McKnight and (defensive lineman) Ahmad Gooden – three All-Americans, three guys that are some of the best to ever play at Samford. Those guys are hard to replace but we’ve got a good group of guys this year. It’s a really tightknit team. We may lack a little bit of flash but somebody’s going to step up. That’s part of the process of building a program, that you have guys ready to step up when guys leave. Our goal is to be the best team we can be. That was our goal last year. There’s a lot of question marks going into this season.
ANC: What is the strength of this year’s team?
Hatcher: It is to be decided, to be determined. Right now I think that our safeties are really experienced on defense. We’ve got four or five guys back there that can really play. And I believe our offensive line is going to be a strength of our team. Those are the guys with the most experience. Those are the kind of the lead groups right now. Hopefully they can carry this along until some of these other guys get some experience.
ANC: Who are your team’s standouts?
Hatcher: In the secondary right now, we’ve got Koi Freeman coming back. He got injured (last year). He was playing really well back there so we’re excited about him. Christian Matthew and Coutrell Plair are guys I feel really good about. Nathan East has had a big camp for us; he really came on at linebacker. And then our entire offensive line, led by Brendan Loftus, Nate Lee, Mike Williams and Nick Nixon, guys who have played a lot of snaps for us. And we’re going to have to really focus on being better in the run game and that’s where DeMarcus Ware comes in, who had a really breakout last half of the season running the football for us. He’s looked really good. We hope that he’ll continue to progress and get better and better each and every week.
ANC: What game do your fans have circled on your schedule?
Hatcher: I would imagine the Youngstown State game. That’s the opener. We play in The Guardian Kickoff Classic in Montgomery on ESPN to kick the season off on Week 0, a week before most everybody else plays. I would say that would be one that they would have. Of course, Wofford is the perennial power in our league. I would imagine those are the two that they probably are the most anxious to see.
ANC: What is your lingering question?
Hatcher: How our quarterback plays. Right now it’s between Chris Oladokun and Liam Welch who’s going to be the starter. I would imagine just like any team when you lose a great quarterback and you’ve got another guy coming in his place, you’ve gotta make a decision. You’re looking forward to seeing how that guy performs because if you don’t have good quarterback play, you’re in a lot of trouble.
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