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SoCon Media Day 2022: What We Learned

Are the Mocs ready to take the reins? Is this finally Mercer’s year? Will VMI have enough for a playoff push? The SoCon race will be one to watch this season.

NCAA Football: Chattanooga at Kentucky Jordan Prather-USA TODAY Sports

You’d have to look back to the 2017 season to see the last time the SoCon sent three teams to the FCS playoffs. This could be the year, however, that the league accomplishes the feat once more. Several programs in the conference are good enough to vie for a spot in the bracket come November.

The nine members all took part in the SoCon’s annual media day on Thursday (aired on ESPN+ on Friday) and it’s safe to say there’s plenty to be excited about this season.

Paladins Expect Improvement Across the Board

Furman head coach Clay Hendrix didn’t beat around the bush when talking about expectations from his team this fall.

“I’ll be real disappointed if we’re not better in every single position,” he said. “We lost some good football players but I feel like we have a chance to be better everywhere ... I’m excited about this group.”

The Paladins struggled in several areas last year but still finished with a winning record of 6-5 (4-4 SoCon). This offseason the program hired two new co-offensive coordinators in Chad Byers and Justin Roper. Hendrix sees those hirings as a reason to expect such improvement.

“Coach Roper, I think we believe in a lot of the same things. [He] came in and brought a different system and I think our kids have adapted well ... I’ve been really pleased with how all that’s meshed.”

Furman will kick off its season against DII’s North Greenville on September 1.

(You can watch Hendrix’s SoCon media day segment in its entirety here.)

Chattanooga Hopes to Live Up to Hype

It came to little surprise that Devonnsha Maxwell won the Preseason SoCon Defensive Player of the Year award. Maxwell lit it up for the Mocs in 2021 with 9.5 sacks and a forced fumble. On top of that, both the media and coaches picked Chattanooga to win the conference this season. To say there’s high expectations surrounding Rusty Wright’s team is an understatement.

“[I’m] very excited about what these guys have done,” said Wright. “I’m ready to get going ... we are who are,” He concluded simply.

The Mocs went 6-5 in 2021 but are expected to best that mark this fall and return to the playoffs. Chattanooga had five players selected the Preseason All-Conference team with two coming on offense and three on defense. One of those players was running back Ailym Ford who rushed for over 1,000 yards and 11 touchdowns last year.

The Mocs will open 2022 with against SoCon foe Wofford on September 3.

Mercer Looking for Breakthrough Season

Mercer v Alabama
Drew Cronic is coming into his third season as Mercer’s head coach.
Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Mercer came ever so close to making the postseason a year ago. A loss to ETSU on the final weekend resulted in a 7-3 record, however, that was not quite enough to sway the committee and the Bears were left out in the cold at season’s end. This year they’re planning on breaking through.

“It takes an entire university to win,” said head coach Drew Cronic. “To have a chance in the last game last fall, I’m proud of that.”

Cronic admitted that his team will need to improve if they are to reach the playoffs for what would be the first time in program history this year but he believes they are ready to.

The Bears landed two players on the Preseason All-Conference team including standout DB Lance Wise. Wise nabbed three interceptions and registered 59 total tackles in 2021 and looks to be a key player on the defense yet again.

The Bears will meet Morehead State on August 27 to kick off their season.

ETSU Ready for Life After Sanders

The 2021 season was one of the best in recent memory for the Buccaneers. The program won the SoCon, received a seed in the playoffs and pulled off one of the more remarkable postseason victories we’ve seen in a while en route to a trip the quarterfinals. The Cinderella run, however, ended with long time coach Randy Sanders calling it a career. The Bucs have found Sanders’ replacement in George Quarles and they hope not to miss a beat.

“I was able to keep eight of the ten coaches on staff,” said Quarles. “Clearly things were not broken at ETSU and I wanted to keep as many of those guys around as I could ... I’m super blessed to get this opportunity.”

Quarles comes over from Furman where he spent the last five seasons on the Paladins staff as an associate head coach. He also has plenty of coaching experience at the high school level.

ETSU will have a tough time repeating as conference champs with others gunning for them but there’s no reason to not believe in the Bucs as of right now. They retain playmakers like Preseason Offensive Player of the Year Jacob Saylors. Saylors rushed for over 1,000 yards despite having one of the nation’s best running backs Quay Holmes as a teammate in 2021.

East Tennessee State will kick off their season against DII’s Mars Hill on September 1.

Bulldogs Facing QB Battle Heading into Fall Camp

The Citadel finds itself in the midst of a quarterback competition as the 2022 season draws nearer. Last year’s signal caller Jaylan Adams entered the transfer portal and left a void that needs filled. Head coach Brent Thompson will keep an eye on the battle for that QB spot this fall.

“Right now we’ve got Ahmad (Green). He finished the spring as the starting quarterback,” Thompson explained. “Varney (Farhnbullah) is there as well ... it’s wide open right now.”

Green and Farhnbullah are joined in the QB room by Ethan Greenwood, Peyton Derrick, Tripp Williams, Jack Grider and Graeson Underwood. Whoever is named the starter will be in charge of a triple option attack that will require great mobility.

Last season The Citadel won just four games and will be trying to pick up right where they left off as the team won its last two heading into the offseason.

The Bulldogs begin their 2022 season at Campbell on September 3.

Samford Thankful for O-Line Experience Amid QB Uncertainty

The Bulldogs may not know who their starting quarterback will be yet but they know whoever he is, he’ll have a seasoned offensive line to work behind. Samford is returning five starting offensive lineman, a point that is not lost on head coach Chris Hatcher.

“These guys work really good together,” Hatcher said. “They’re a cohesive group and coach Shawn Bostick, our offensive line coach, he does a fabulous job with those guys.”

The Bulldogs offensive line only allowed 16 sacks all of last year. The team as a whole is looking to improve on a 4-7 record in which they went 3-5 in SoCon play. Stability up front for whomever the signal caller may be should help the team greatly.

Samford opens its campaign on September 1 against Kennesaw State.

WCU Hopes to Carry Momentum of Late-Season Wins

After a rocky start in 2021, Western Carolina won four of its final five games to close out the year. It wasn’t enough to make a playoff push but it was something that head coach Kerwin Bell hopes will help his squad heading into this fall.

“I think the last five games, going 4-1 gave us a lot of momentum going into the offseason,” Bell said. “We feel so much better about where our team is.”

The Catamounts finished last year with a 4-7 record with all of those victories coming October 23 or later, including a season-finale road thumping of a very good VMI team. Returning this year are several playmakers including Preseason All-Conference receiver Raphael Williams and standout kicker Richard McCollum.

WCU will play Charleston Southern on September 3 to kick off the season.

VMI Not Concerned With Low Ranking

VMI is looking to reach the playoffs for just the second time in school history.
Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The pollsters didn’t think very highly of VMI this year despite the program’s first back-to-back winning seasons since the early 1960s. The Keydets were picked by the media to finish sixth in the league while the coaches had them coming in at seventh. None of that, though, bothers head coach Scott Wachenheim.

“I think we have a team that can compete for the Southern Conference championship,” said Wachenheim. “I’m looking forward to a very competitive season where we get a chance to be the best that we can be.”

Wachenheim also admitted that the SoCon is a very talented league and that many teams in the conference are capable of vying for a league championship. His confidence in his own team, though, is well founded. VMI will have guys like stud linebacker Stone Snyder leading the charge on defense and will also boast a very talented special teams unit.

Last season the team went 6-5 and picked up key wins over opponents like Chattanooga and Mercer. They’ll be hoping to improve on that record this year and return to the playoffs, a place they last were in the 2020 spring season.

The Keydets will face Wake Forest on the road on September 1 to start 2022.

(You can watch Wachenheim’s SoCon media day segment in its entirety here.)

Wofford Not Dwelling on Previous Misfortunes

The Terriers won their season opener in 2021 but after that they lost every game on their schedule. It was an unfortunate combination of injuries and bad luck that forced Wofford into having to play some of its younger, more inexperienced players earlier than they had hoped, resulting in the ten straight losses. Fifth year head coach Josh Conklin isn’t getting hung up on those things, however.

“As a head coach you look at the things that you can control and the things that you can’t control,” Conklin said. “And those are some of the things that we can’t control.”

After a dismal 1-10 campaign last year, there’s nowhere to go but up for the Terriers. They had one player, defensive lineman Michael Mason, chosen for the Preseason All-Conference Team and hired former Northern Iowa offensive assistant Shawn Watson as their new offensive coordinator.

Wofford will begin its campaign with a conference game right off the bat against Chattanooga on September 3.