Devlin Hodges ran out of college eligibility following the 2018 season. Samford continued playing college football.
Liam Welch is not walking through the door for the 2022 season. Samford isn’t forfeiting the season.
The point is, with Chris Hatcher running the show, chances are pretty good that Samford is going to be good at quarterback.
“I knew this would be the first question you asked. It should be,” Hatcher said during last week’s Samford Media Day. “Hodges left, [everybody said] the sky is falling in. Welch comes in, has a little bit of a rough patch early, plays at a high level. We got some guys in that room who are very capable of being the guys in a few years you ask me how are you going to replace those guys.”
Coveted junior college transfer Michael Hiers and University of Kentucky transfer Nik Scalzo are in the middle of a tussle for the starting job. Both were on campus for spring practice. Hiers came out a step ahead in the spring, but things have evened up during fall camp.
“If they both have to play, that’s fine,” Hatcher said. “Both of them have shown they are very capable of running this offense at a high level. I think anybody would like to have a legitimate starter that you feel really good about. Throughout my career, there have been teams where I play three quarterbacks. We’re going to play who gives us the best chance to win. We’re still early in camp. A lot of things can happen between now and the first game.”
Hatcher himself was a two-time All-American quarterback at Valdosta State and he’s produced big-time quarterbacks and big-chunk offenses at every stop in his coaching career. Hodges is the Football Championship Subdivision leader in career passing yards and he twice finished with more than 4,000 yards passing in a season. Welch was an All-American during the spring 2021 season, directing an offense that produced 353 passing yards and 40 points per game.
Undoubtedly, there is an expectation facing this year’s quarterbacks.
“I’ve gotten to train with Devlin and Liam,” said Hiers. “You see all their stats and the records they have. Obviously, it makes you want to compete with that and try to break it. They are really good players. I think it made Samford and the offense good, and that’s what kind of attracts you to come here.”
Hiers grew up not far from Samford, graduating from Briarwood Christian High. The 6-foot-1, 211-pound Hiers threw for 2,672 yards and 22 touchdowns as a senior, leading the Lions to a 14-1 record and the Class 5A state championship. He went to Murray State after high school, playing in two games in two seasons, before transferring to Northwest Mississippi Community College.
He flourished in junior college, throwing for 4,519 yards and 34 touchdowns in 18 games over two seasons. Rivals ranked him as the No. 1 pro-style JUCO quarterback.
“It was awesome,” Hiers said. “Everyone always sees the Last Chance U show. We were in that same conference. We played EMCC, played against [current Samford defensive coordinator Chris Boone]. It's nothing like it seemed on the show. The two years I was there, it was great. The football was great, coaches were great, I loved it.”
The physical style of play also helped him as a player.
“They don’t necessarily protect the quarterback,” Hiers said with a laugh. “I don’t think they really care about that. My offensive coordinator told me that I might want to put some pounds on because late hits are going to happen in JUCO. It made me tougher, but it was good.”
He arrived at Samford at the same time as Scalzo, a 5-foot-11, 189-pound Florida native, who was a three-star recruit out of high school and considered one of the top quarterbacks in his home state. He was also one of three quarterbacks featured on the third season of the Netflix series, “QB1: Beyond the Lights.”
“It was kind of crazy because right when it came out, COVID hit,” said Scalzo, who was featured on the show with current South Carolina quarterback Spencer Rattler and Lance Legendre of New Orleans. “Everyone was inside and didn’t have anything else to do, so they watched it. It kind of blew up a little more than I expected it to be. With that, it always comes with positive and negative. You are going to have people say, 'That’s awesome, that’s a great role model for my kid.' Then you’re going to have people that are like, 'You suck, you’re horrible, you’re never going to do anything in life, why would they choose you.'”
Scalzo quickly moved to third on the Kentucky depth chart as a true freshman but suffered a major knee injury in the final fall camp scrimmage. He only saw game action once over his three years in the Kentucky program and decided to search for a new home. His next destination became clear quickly.
“Samford was my first offer in high school,” Scalzo said. “I kind of got a couple other bigger offers and ended up going to Kentucky. The minute I hit the transfer portal, Coach Hatcher called me the next day. It was kind of like, in the beginning, he was there, at the end he was there.”
Scalzo fit perfectly into what Hatcher likes to do on offense, which wasn’t the same in Kentucky’s pro-style attack.
“We do everything very simple here,” Scalzo said. “We were talking about this the other day in practice. We ran 62 plays and 60 of the plays, there was always a receiver open. It’s crazy the dynamic of how an offense can change. Back in high school, we ran [a similar] offense. I was kind of used to that. I went to Kentucky and went away from that, I’m here, and I’m doing it again, which is awesome. I think it fits my play style; I’m not the biggest guy. I need to get the ball and get it out. It fits perfect.”
On Sept. 1, one of them will take the first snap when the Bulldogs plays host to Kennesaw State, which should be one of the country’s top FCS teams. Both will be better prepared because of the fall camp competition.
“Nik is a great player, every day we get to feed off each other, compete against each other, which, in turn, makes us better,” Hiers said. “Overall, it makes the team get better, and the ultimate goal is to help our team win games on Saturday.”
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