Samford ranks No. 8 in HERO Sports’ FCS Preseason Top 25.
The Bulldogs lost 27-9 at No. 3 seed North Dakota State in the 2022 FCS quarterfinals as the No. 6 seed. They finished 11-2 overall and 11-1 vs. the FCS.
Here’s a look at this year’s Samford football squad.
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Returning 2022 FCS All-Conference Players (6)
QB Michael Hiers
WR Chandler Smith
LB Garrett Morris (2022 All-Ivy at Penn)
CB Kamron Smith (2022 All-Big South at Charleston Southern)
OL Jabari Brooks
WR RJ Starkey (2022 All-Ivy at Penn)
Players In 2023 FCS Positional Rankings (3)
No. 17 CB Kamron Smith (transfer from Charleston Southern)
Transfer Portal Movement
Transfers Lost To The FCS (1)
Caleb Durham-Honer (WR) to Missouri State
Transfers Coming In From The FBS (6)
Tyrese Ross (DB), South Carolina
Trustin Northington (DB), Ole Miss
Isaiah Watson (DB), Eastern Michigan
Joel DeCoursey (TE), Vanderbilt
Kiylan Miller (DB), Coastal Carolina
Avery Hughes (DB), Texas A&M
Transfers Coming In From The FCS (8)
Devin Smith (DB), Austin Peay
Kamron Smith (DB), Charleston Southern
Iaan Cousin (WR), Kennesaw
Damonta Witherspoon (RB), Murray State
Garrett Morris (LB), Penn
RJ Starkey (WR), Penn
Jonathan Searcy (DB), Bucknell
Bryce Graves (LB), Elon
Samford loses eight of its 11 All-SoCon offensive and defensive selections from last season. But it still brings back plenty of firepower, especially on offense. The Bulldogs reloaded with some proven FCS transfers as well.
The offense returns seven full-time starters. Last year, Samford scored 32.8 points per game (No. 27 in the FCS) and threw for 304.4 yards per game (No. 6).
It all starts with arguably the best returning FCS quarterback. Michael Hiers transferred to Samford last year from Northwest Mississippi Community College. He then completed 77% of his passes (353/461) for 3,544 yards, 36 touchdowns, and four interceptions while adding three rushing scores. Hiers was named the SoCon Offensive Player of the Year and finished fourth in Walter Payton Award voting.
Two of his Top 3 wide receivers are back, including leading pass-catcher Chandler Smith. Smith caught 100 passes for 1,071 yards and 11 touchdowns. D.J. Rias is also back after being last year’s No. 3 WR, hauling in 51 catches for 588 yards and six TDs. Ty King eyes a big season as well after playing in seven games and recording 20 receptions for 249 yards and one score.
Leading rusher Jay Stanton returns, gaining 775 yards and five TDs in 2022. And the offensive brings back three starters: Luke Byrne (6-4, 307 lbs), Chris Noble (6-4, 261 lbs), and Jabari Brooks (6-3, 342 lbs).
The Bulldogs landed two familiar names in the transfer portal to boost their offense.
RJ Starkey is a wide receiver from Penn, where he was named to the 2022 All-Ivy League Second Team after catching 56 passes for 515 yards and four TDs. And Damonta Witherspoon is a running back from Murray State, an All-OVC pick in the 2021 spring season who also ran for 912 yards and eight TDs in the 2021 fall.
RELATED: 5 Offseason Questions For Samford
The defense returns four starters from a unit that allowed 25.5 points per game (No. 45 in the FCS).
Last year’s leaders in tackles, tackles for loss, sacks, and pass breakups all return in 2023.
Noah Martin is back at linebacker after leading the team with 92 tackles and 7.5 TFLs. Thomas Neville returns as a starting LB as well, recording 36 tackles and four TFLs. Joseph Mera started at defensive end, tallying 25 tackles, five TFLs, and a team-high four sacks. And starting DB Fred Flavors is back, tallying 53 tackles, one interception, and a team-high 18 pass breakups.
Samford went to the transfer portal to beef up the defense’s depth. Two notable names stand out from the FCS ranks.
LB Garrett Morris was a two-year starter at Penn. Last season, he earned All-Ivy League First Team honors after totaling 71 tackles, 9.5 TFLs, two sacks, one interception, and four passes defended. DB Kamron Smith transfers in from Charleston Southern. A 2022 Sophomore All-American and a First Team All-Big South selection, the 6-foot cornerback had 37 tackles and 13 passes defended.
The Bulldogs also brought in five DB transfers (above) from the FBS, including three from the SEC.
Samford should have one of the most explosive offenses in the FCS this fall. While the defense was stronger in 2022 compared to 2021, the unit will need some new faces to emerge and take another step forward in 2023.
8/31 vs Shorter
9/9 at Western Carolina
9/16 at Auburn
9/23 vs RV Chattanooga
9/30 vs ETSU
10/7 at Wofford
10/14 vs No. 5 Furman
10/21 at VMI
10/28 vs The Citadel
11/11 at No. 19 Mercer
11/18 vs UT Martin
HERO Sports’ rankings
RV = Received Votes
Bold indicates SoCon games