SPARTANBURG, S.C. – Samford quarterback Devlin Hodges has been named the Southern Conference Preseason Offensive Player of the Year for the second straight season, while teammate and defensive lineman Ahmad Gooden has been tabbed the Defensive Player of the Year in preseason voting by the league’s nine head coaches, who chose the Bulldogs as the favorites to win the SoCon in their annual predictive poll.
The coaches also selected all-conference first and second teams and were not allowed to vote for their own student-athletes or teams in the voting process. Due to several ties in the voting, the second team includes three additional offensive linemen, one extra wide receiver and one additional punter.
Samford, which tied for second in the SoCon standings, made the FCS playoffs and finished the year ranked 17th nationally in 2017, earned seven of the nine first-place votes in the preseason poll, totaling 63 points. The Bulldogs have completed their ascent up the SoCon preseason rankings, as they are favorites for the first time after working their way up from ninth place in 2008, their debut season in the league. Samford, now a consistent top-25 team, has been picked in the top three in the SoCon preseason rankings in each of the last five seasons.
The Bulldogs return six of their league-best nine All-SoCon performers from last season, including Hodges and Gooden.
Defending league champion Wofford edged Furman for second in the preseason poll, picking up a first-place vote and 53 points. The Terriers enter the Josh Conklin era this season after SoCon Hall of Fame head coach Mike Ayers stepped down following the 2017 season, his 30th at Wofford. The Terriers reached the FCS quarterfinals for the second straight season last year.
The Paladins, paced by 2017 SoCon Coach of the Year Clay Hendrix, were third in the poll with 52 points and the remaining first-place vote. Furman finished in a tie for second in the SoCon with Samford last season, posting an identical 6-2 league record, and advanced to the FCS second round, where it fell to Wofford.
Western Carolina finished fourth in the poll with 39 points and was followed by Chattanooga (34), Mercer (32), The Citadel (28), ETSU (15) and VMI (eight). ETSU will also enter a new era this season, as Randy Sanders takes over for the Bucs following the retirement of Carl Torbush after the 2017 campaign.
Samford’s Hodges was a finalist for the FCS Walter Payton Award in 2017 and collected his second straight SoCon Offensive Player of the Year award. The rising redshirt senior from Kimberley, Alabama, was named a second-team All-American by the AFCA and ranked third in the FCS with 3,983 passing yards and fifth with 31 touchdowns. Hodges was sixth in the FCS with 331.9 passing yards per game and led the nation with 28.92 completions per game. Overall, Hodges was 347-for-528 with just 11 interceptions on the season. He had a career game against Western Carolina on Sept. 23 of last season, throwing for 516 yards, the third-best mark in league history, and amassing 530 yards of total offense, the second-best single-game total in SoCon lore.
The Bulldogs’ Ahmad Gooden, a consensus All-American last season, finished the 2017 campaign with 101 tackles, tied for fifth in the league, en route to becoming the first Samford player to earn SoCon Defensive Player of the Year honors from the league’s coaches. The rising redshirt senior from Talladega, Alabama, wrapped up the season with 15.5 tackles for loss, tied for second in the league, while his 1.3 TFLs per game ranked 37th in the FCS. The Buck Buchanan Award finalist also recorded 5.5 sacks, which tied for fourth in the SoCon, and posted five games with at least 10 tackles, including 17 in a win over No. 24 Furman late in the season. He helped anchor a Samford defense that led the SoCon in total defense, allowing just 22.2 points per game, and allowed a league-low 133 points in league contests.
Wofford led all teams with 10 total preseason all-conference selections, putting a league-best six on the first teams and sharing league-high honors with four on the second teams. Junior Luke Carter earned first-team honors at placekicker and second-team mention at punter.
Mercer was second with eight total selections, putting four each on the first and second teams, while Furman and Samford had seven total selections each.
Chattanooga and Samford get the season underway on Thursday, Aug. 30, with the Mocs hosting Tennessee Tech at 7 p.m. Eastern and the Bulldogs welcoming Shorter at 7:30 p.m. Eastern.
2018 Preseason Southern Conference Coaches Poll
Team (1st-place votes) Total
1. Samford (7) 63
2. Wofford (1) 53
3. Furman (1) 52
4. Western Carolina 39
5. Chattanooga 34
6. Mercer 32
7. The Citadel 28
8. ETSU 15
9. VMI 8
2018 Preseason All-Southern Conference Football Teams
Offensive Player of the Year: Devlin Hodges, R-Sr., QB, Samford
Defensive Player of the Year: Ahmad Gooden, R-Sr., DL, Samford
First team offense
QB Devlin Hodges, R-Sr., Samford
RB Kealand Dirks, R-Sr., Furman
RB Andre Stoddard, Sr., Wofford
OL Tyler Davis, Sr., The Citadel
OL Austin Sanders, R-Jr., Mercer
OL Nick Nixon, Jr., Samford
OL Zach Weeks, R-Sr., Western Carolina
OL Michael Ralph, Jr., Wofford
TE Sam Walker, R-Sr., Mercer
WR Marquise Irvin, Sr., Mercer
WR Kelvin McKnight, Sr., Samford
First team defense
DL Nasir Player, R-Jr., ETSU
DL Ahmad Gooden, R-Sr., Samford
DL Isaiah Mack, R-Sr., Chattanooga
DL Miles Brown, Sr., Wofford
LB Elijah McKoy, So., Furman
LB LeMarkus Bailey, R-Sr., Mercer
LB Datavious Wilson, Jr., Wofford
DB Aron Spann III, Sr., The Citadel
DB Aaquil Annoor, Sr., Furman
DB Marvin Tillman, Sr., Western Carolina
DB Devin Watson, Sr., Wofford
First team specialists
PK Luke Carter, Jr., Wofford
P Ian Berryman, R-Sr., Western Carolina
RS Brandon Dowdell, So., Chattanooga
Second team offense
QB Tyrie Adams, R-Jr., Western Carolina
RB Tee Mitchell, Sr., Mercer
RB Tyrell Price, Jr., Chattanooga
OL Drew McEntyre, Jr., The Citadel
OL Matt Pyke, R-Sr., ETSU
OL Reed Kroeber, R-So., Furman
OL Malcolm White, R-Jr., Chattanooga
OL Brad Davis, So., VMI
OL Nathan Dalton, R-Sr., Western Carolina
OL Andrew Miles, R-Sr., Western Carolina
OL Justus Basinger, Jr., Wofford
TE Jake Walker, So., Furman
WR Thomas Gordon, Jr., Furman
WR Chris Shelling, Jr., Samford
WR Bingo Morton, R-Sr., Chattanooga
Second team defense
DL Ja’Lon Williams, Jr., The Citadel
DL Jaylan Reid, R-Sr., Furman
DL Isaiah Buehler, R-Sr., Mercer
DL Mikel Horton, Jr., Wofford
LB Noah Dawkins, Sr., The Citadel
LB Dylan Weigel, R-Sr., ETSU
LB Christian Stark, Sr., Samford
DB Eric Jackson, R-Jr., Mercer
DB Darius Harvey, R-Sr., Samford
DB Kareem Orr, Sr., Chattanooga
DB Mason Alstatt, Jr., Wofford
Second team specialists
PK JJ Jerman, Sr., ETSU
P Matt Shiel, Gr., Mercer
P Luke Carter, Jr., Wofford
RS Quan Harrison R-Jr., ETSU
NOTE: Coaches were not permitted to vote for their own players. Ties in the voting resulted in additional spots at OL, WR and P on the second teams.