BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – The 17th-ranked Samford football team opens Southern Conference play at Western Carolina Saturday afternoon. The last time the Bulldogs traveled to Cullowhee, North Carolina, the game marked a significant milestone in the career of quarterback Devlin Hodges.
As a redshirt freshman, in 2015 Hodges was inserted into the starting lineup for Samford's game at Western Carolina. The game marked the Kimberly, Alabama, native's first collegiate start, replacing former starter Michael Eubank.
Hodges said what he remembers most about that game two years ago was the crowd and the atmosphere around the game.
"Western Carolina had a great atmosphere," Hodges said. "That was one of the most impressive things, getting the start, was the atmosphere that they had. I feel like it was one of the best atmosphere's we played in that year."
Hodges put up impressive numbers in his first start, completing 42-of-61 passes for 399 yards and three touchdowns. He also rushed for 94 yards and a score. The Bulldogs, however, fell in a 56-36 shootout.
"I remember coming in and being prepared and making some big plays," Hodges said. "It's been great to see myself grow from that game, all the way up until now."
The loss was the third in four games for the Bulldogs. However, better days were ahead for the team. Following a close loss to Furman the following week, Samford closed the season winning its last three games, including impressive SoCon road wins at Wofford and Mercer.
"It was just confidence with me, and being prepared was the biggest thing," Hodges said of the team's turnaround. "I was the backup at the beginning of the season, and then when my number was called, I came in and did my job and made some plays."
MORE: Why the FCS is all about the ground game | APSU snaps nation's longest losing streak
Hodges continued to improve the following season. As a sophomore in 2016, he completed 375-of-530 passes for 4,088 yards and 36 touchdowns, all school records. At the conclusion of the season, Hodges was named the SoCon's Offensive Player of the Year and a third team All-American. He also led the team to an appearance in the NCAA Division I-FCS Playoffs.
"A lot of it had to do with, going into that first game my sophomore year, I had some games under my belt," Hodges said. "It wasn't like it was my first college start that first game. Another thing was, I had more time to get timing down with my receivers, and even to learn the offense even more in the spring and over the summer. I had a lot more confidence coming into that sophomore season, just because of the snaps I had played before."
Entering this season, Hodges received a long list of preseason accolades. Among others, he was named preseason All-American and the preseason SoCon Offensive Player of the Year. Hodges said he doesn't pay much attention to those individual honors, he is just concerned about helping the team win.
"People look at that in different ways," Hodges said. "A lot of people use that for motivation and some people don't worry about it. For me, I don't worry about it. All I care about is the team and I want to do whatever it takes for the team to win."
"I feel more confident this year because I've had more reps under my belt and I feel like I know the offense a lot better this year than I did last year," Hodges said. "Last year was kind of the first year for this offense, and after having a year under the belt, a lot of confidence has been gained. We have a lot of young guys, but there is a lot of talent around me."
MORE: Dayton continues its 41-year, 457-game streak of not being shut out
Samford is 2-1 this season heading into this weekend's game, with home wins over Kennesaw State and West Alabama, and a loss at SEC power and 13th-ranked Georgia. Hodges currently leads the SoCon in passing yards per game (261). Hodges has a lot of youth around him in the offense, but he says he thinks the group is making progress as the season continues.
"They're progressing well," Hodges said. "The biggest thing was getting them some game time and game action. We've played three games and there's always room for improvement, but just having those game reps and having that game atmosphere for these young guys has been huge before we start conference play."
Saturday's game is scheduled for a 3:30 p.m. ET kickoff from WCU's E.J. Whitmire Stadium. The contest will air live on ESPN3, and can also be heard locally on FM-99.1 The Game, or online at www.991thegame.com.