The quarterback tussle between Michael Hiers and Nik Scalzo did not end the way Samford head coach Chris Hatcher hoped it would.

He is fine with Hiers winning the job. No one ever wants the race to end because of an injury. Scalzo suffered a knee injury early in the second week of fall camp and will be out for the season. That means Hiers, a 6-foot-1, 211-pound junior college transfer, who played at nearby Briarwood Christian in high school, will drive the offense.

Hiers’ backup is walk-on Quincy Crittendon, a redshirt freshman from Austin High in Decatur, and Cade Blackmon, a junior from Opelika with four games of college experience, is next.

While Hatcher is disappointed that Scalzo will not be in the mix, the veteran Samford coach remains optimistic as his team gets ready to face No. 6 Kennesaw State at Seibert Stadium on Thursday, with kickoff slated for 6 p.m.

“I think we have some very quality guys right now that in a few years we will be down in the doldrums about how are we going to replace them?” Hatcher said this week on his radio show. “I think we got some options there, and I think all of them are pretty good.”

The bigger question mark is placed on the team’s defense as they prepare to play a Kennesaw State team that averaged 279 yards on the ground and 402 yards overall last season. The Owls rushed for more than 150 yards in 72 consecutive games and quarterback Xavier Shepherd, the A-Sun Preseason Player of the Year, rushed for 23 touchdowns last season.

Samford’s defense allowed 141 yards rushing, 308 yards passing, 449 yards overall and 37.9 points per game last season.

“Statistically, last year, we weren’t very good on defense,” said linebacker Nathan East, a preseason All-Southern Conference selection. “Finishing games has been a big emphasis. For us, on the defensive side, running to the ball, finishing plays, making tackles, that’s how you win ball games.”

Samford added some newcomers to shore up the defense but will also rely on veterans. Dartmouth transfer Seth Simmer (6-foot-4, 302 pounds) and fifth-year senior Tay Berry (6-foot-2, 281 pounds) had strong camps. East enters his fifth season on the field and sixth season overall at Samford with 281 career tackles.

The Bulldogs also brought in defensive coordinator Chris Boone in hopes to spark the defense. Boone was the defensive coordinator at East Mississippi Community College last season and served as Samford’s defensive line and special teams coach under Pat Sullivan in 2014.

“I think we will be a little more multiple in what we do defensively, and I think we will have just a little bit tougher, harder edge about the way we play defense,” Hatcher said. “I have been really pleased with the way those guys have practiced and the way they have been playing. Hopefully, we will be much improved on that side of the ball.”

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