By SAMFORD | Football
The Samford football team opened the 2021 spring season with a game at ETSU Saturday, Feb. 20 losing 24-17 from an ETSU fourth quarter comeback. But there is more football this spring for the Bulldogs.
The season was moved to the spring after the fall season was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The spring season will consist of eight conference games. The team's home opener is set for Feb. 27 against Western Carolina, also at noon.
"We're excited about it, especially our players," Samford head coach Chris Hatcher said. "They've had a lot of practice, a lot of uncertainty throughout this entire time. Now to see the reality of a season getting ready to take place, spirits are high and we're looking forward to playing this inaugural and hopefully final spring football season."
A lot of changes were made to the Samford coaching staff in the offseason. A new defensive coordinator, Nick Benedetto, was brought in. Hatcher talked about what he brings to the staff.
"We've been very pleased with the performance of our defense thus far," Hatcher said. "We're very multiple on defense, I think he's done a good job of deciphering who can play what, here in a very short period of time. We have a fairly new staff over there (defense) as well. I think the pandemic actually helped them, they got a little more time to evaluate and a little more time to install."
There are several key positions that have to be filled this season after losing players to graduation. Hatcher talked about filling some of those spots.
"I think at any position for all teams this spring depth is going to be a huge issue, due to guys that have left early and not being able to replace them going into the spring season," Hatcher said. "But, we are going to be young at spots, but we have some really good players coming back. A few young guys I've been really pleased with in J.T. May, he's been playing well at defensive end. Kourtlan Marsh, has settled in at the safety spot. Noah Martin has replaced (John) Staton, he's a true freshman who has really played well at the middle linebacker position. I think the biggest surprise coming on here late is Jacob Peters, he's moved up to the number two guy at corner on the depth chart as a true freshman."
The coaching staff also has a new offensive coordinator in Mitch Stewart, who previously worked with Hatcher at Murray State. Stewart was originally hired as the wide receivers' coach, but moved up to offensive coordinator when Derrick Sherman left to take a job at Georgia Southern.
"We're familiar with one another, he'll assume those duties (as offensive coordinator)," Hatcher said of Stewart. "We work really well together and we're excited about him joining the staff in another role."
Both quarterbacks who started last season, Chris Oladokun and Liam Welch return as seniors this season. The two will compete for the starting spot this season as well. Hatcher talked about what he has seen from the two in the preseason.
"I think we're playing at a much higher level, from a talent standpoint," Hatcher said. "It's up and down, one morning I'll wake up thinking we have to start this guy, and the next morning it will be the other guy. But we are fortunate we have two good quarterbacks that I believe are much better than they were last season and have a much better command of the offense. Both of them are similar, and yet both are very different in what they do."
Samford must also replace three starting spots on the offensive line this season.
"That's probably the biggest question that we have going into the spring season offensively," Hatcher said. "We're going to be young. On the right side, Mike Williams and Gavin Orr, both of those guys have logged a lot of snaps for us. Right now, Beau Myers is our starting center. It's kind of musical chairs over there at left tackle. Austin Guyse and Donny (Donovan) Hawkins, a true freshman, have played well. And then Jabari Brooks and Cooper Frazier, two freshmen, have been logging a lot of snaps with the ones, as well as some other guys. I'm pleased with the progress of our young players."
At the skill positions on offense, Samford returns a lot of young talent. One of the leaders of the group is All-American punt returner and wide receiver/running back Montrell Washington.
"The big thing with Montrell is we just have to find a way to get him touches more than we did last year," Hatcher said. "That has been a premium headed into this season. You have Jai'Rus Creamer coming back, Chandler Smith has been playing extremely well. A.J. Toney has had a good spring as well. Kendall Watson is back. So, we have a bunch of guys that are playing well. So far, Ty King is a guy that has really been playing well throughout the course of this spring camp. And then at running back, Jocquet Jiles in our scrimmage had a really good day."