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After disappointing 2010, Samford battle cry this year is 'finish'
Alex Davis doesn’t want to go out the way his older brother Andy did.
In his final year as a senior strong safety with Samford in 2010, Andy Davis and the Bulldogs suffered through a disappointing 4-7 season, dropping their final three games and going 1-4 at home.
Alex Davis, a defensive end, shared in the misery.
“It tore me up,” Alex said. “It was the last year having my brother. It hurt me for them to go out that way on their last round.”
The Bulldogs had 25 seniors a year ago and high expectations, yet they finished in seventh place in the Southern Conference with a 2-6 league record.
“Last year was a disappointing year for us,” Samford head coach Pat Sullivan said. “It didn’t end up like we had hoped.”
The Bulldogs lost several close games, adding to their frustration.
“It was heartbreaking because we were right there, but we just couldn’t pull it off,” Alex Davis said. “We’d drive all the way down the field and couldn’t put it in the end zone. We couldn’t finish. It’s always disheartening when you can’t finish what you start.”
Heading into the 2011 season, the Bulldogs hope to complete what they start.
“We’ve got T-shirts with ‘Finish” pasted on them,” Alex Davis said. “I expect to win football games this season. We’ve worked our (tails) off over the offseason and we’re ready for our hard work to produce for us.”
The Bulldogs, picked to finish seventh in the SoCon, will try to produce with a decidedly youthful look. They have only 11 seniors. Gone are record-setting running back Chris Evans, standout linebacker Bryce Smith and offensive lineman Thomas Gray.
“We lost so many good players,” Davis said, “but I feel they put the foundation down for a good program and we have to capitalize on it.”
Davis will be one of the team leaders. The 6-foot-2, 245-pound senior out of Briarwood Christian was named to the preseason All-SoCon first team defense. Last year, Davis had 41 tackles, led the team with seven sacks and tied for the team lead in tackles for loss with 10.
Davis likes the makeup of the Bulldogs’ defense. He rattled off the names of several of his teammates such as linebackers Keith Shoulders, Justin Shade, Sean Thompson and Darion Sutton. He also mentioned fellow defensive end Austin Hayes and defensive tackles Jeremy Towns and Nick Williams.
Towns, a 6-foot-4, 310-pound junior out of Wenonah, missed last season because of a severe groin injury.
“Up front we’re more physical with Towns and Nick - not taking anything away from the guys who played last year.” Davis said. “Towns is an absolute monster and Nick is going to have a breakout year.”
The secondary will have some new faces. Senior cornerback Corey White is the only returning starter.
The Bulldogs’ major changes are on offense, where they have almost an entirely new coaching staff headed by first-year coordinator Rhett Lashlee, a disciple of Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn.
Although Evans is gone, senior quarterback Dustin Taliaferro, who has made 32 starts in three seasons, is back. He will have several good receivers at his disposal, including the return of Riley Hawkins after a redshirt year and explosive sophomore flanker Kelsey Pope. Former Shades Valley standout Fabian Truss, a sophomore, is set to take over as the starting tailback.
They will operate behind an experienced offensive line that includes Charlie Sanford, who has moved from guard to left tackle, Kasey Morrison at left guard, Ryan Dudchock at center, Joe Collins at right guard and Jacob Kirschenbaum at right tackle.
Davis likes what he’s seen of the offense.
“It’s more dynamic than it used to be,” Davis said. “The offense is flying around play after play after play and the defense has to be in shape because they are going to break a lot of big plays this season. It makes me feel better knowing that our offense is going to put up a lot of points.”
Now the Bulldogs just have to learn to win.
“I’m excited about our team,” Sullivan said. “These guys have really committed themselves. We’ve been close, now we need to finish.”
2010 record – 4-7, 2-6 Southern Conference
Coach – Pat Sullivan, 5th year
Returning starters – 5 on offense, 4 on defense, 1 specialist
Top returning players – QB Dustin Taliaferro, DE Alex Davis, CB Corey White, FLK Kelsey Pope, PK Cameron Yaw
Samford will win the SoCon championship if – the Bulldogs upset Georgia Southern, the preseason SoCon and Football Championship Subdivision favorites, in their season opener on Sept. 3 at Siebert Stadium and ride the momentum throughout the season. In addition, Taliaferro has to come up big in new offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee’s spread offense, taking advantage of playmakers such as Pope, returning split end Riley Hawkins and sophomore tailback Fabian Truss. The Bulldogs’ defense, which played well throughout the 2010 season, will have to plug some holes in the secondary and not get burned by too many big plays.
Samford will not win the SoCon if – they can’t do a better job of scoring touchdowns in the red zone. They put the ball in the end zone only 12 times in 35 red-zone trips (34.3 percent) last year. They also have to avoid letting down in the fourth quarter, which hurt them in some close losses in conference games, and find a way to win at home after going 1-4 last year at Seibert Stadium.
By Rubin Grant, The Birmingham News