The Citadel picked to finish 8th in SoCon preseason coaches poll
GREENVILLE, S.C. – Samford senior quarterback Michael Hiers has been named the Southern Conference Preseason Offensive Player of the Year and Chattanooga senior defensive lineman Jay Person has been tabbed the Preseason Defensive Player of the Year in voting by the league’s nine head coaches. The coaches picked Furman and Samford to win the SoCon, while the league’s media tabbed the Paladins as their preseason favorite.
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 first and second teams both include additional defensive linemen and defensive backs, while the first team includes an additional wide receiver and offensive lineman.
Hiers and Person are the defending SoCon Offensive and Defensive Player of the Year, respectively, and both finished in the top eight in voting for national player of the year honors. Both have earned preseason All-America honors heading into this season.
An All-American who finished fourth in the voting for the Walter Payton Award last season, Hiers led the Bulldogs to a top-10 national ranking, the No. 6 seed in the FCS playoffs, an 11-2 overall record and an 8-0 conference mark for their first outright SoCon title. In his first year at Samford, the Birmingham, Alabama, native threw for a SoCon-leading 3,544 yards – seventh-most in a season in SoCon history – and 36 touchdowns, tying the program and SoCon records for TDs thrown in a season. Hiers, who threw just four interceptions on the season, was 353-for-461 through the air for a SoCon-record and FCS-leading 76.6 completion percentage. He was the SoCon Offensive Player of the Month for September, October and November and earned All-America honors from the Associated Press and Stats Perform.
A consensus first-team All-American who tied for eighth in the Buck Buchanan Award voting last year, Person totaled 52 tackles for the Mocs in 2022, including a league-leading 17.5 for lost yardage, with his average of 1.5 per game ranking ninth in the FCS. Person also shared the SoCon lead with 8.0 sacks. The Cleveland, Tennessee, native anchored a Chattanooga defense that led the SoCon in total defense (320.5), rushing defense (108.0) and sacks (35) and ranked second in the league in scoring defense (20.6), all of which ranked in the top 15 in the FCS. Person and the Mocs were nationally ranked throughout the season, reaching as high as No. 6 in the country.
Furman, which was picked by both the coaches and media to win SoCon this season, went 10-3 overall and 7-1 in league play last season. The Paladins return 52 letterwinners and 20 starters from the squad that advanced to the second round of the FCS playoffs and finished with No. 10 national rankings from both the AFCA and Stats Perform. Furman collected 59 points and five first-place votes in this year’s SoCon coaches’ poll and earned 345 points and 30 first-place votes from the media. The Paladins have a league-best 15 selections on the preseason all-conference teams, including a league-best seven first-team picks. Furman is No. 5 in the HERO Sports FCS Preseason Top 25 and sixth in the Athlon Sports’ Preseason FCS Top 25.
Helmed by 2022 SoCon Coach of the Year Chris Hatcher, Samford collected 59 points and four first-place votes in the SoCon coaches’ poll and 316 points and eight first-place votes from the media. After winning the SoCon and reaching the quarterfinals of the FCS playoffs for the first time since 1991 last season, the Bulldogs finished seventh in both the AFCA and Stats Perform polls. Samford returns 46 letterwinners and 11 starters from that squad, which won 10 straight games after falling at eventual FBS national champion Georgia in week two of the season. Samford placed seven players on the preseason All-SoCon squads, including six on the first teams. Samford enters this season ranked No. 8 in the HERO Sports preseason national poll and No. 13 in the Athlon Sports poll.
Mercer finished third in both preseason SoCon polls, taking 49 points from the coaches and 263 points and the remaining two first-place votes from the media. The Bears tied for third in the league last year at 7-4 overall and 5-3 in league play and were nationally ranked for the entirety of the season. Mercer enters this season ranked 17th by Athlon Sports and 19th by HERO Sports and put 12 players on the preseason All-SoCon squads, second only to Furman. The Bears had six first-team selections, with preseason All-American Devron Harper earning the nod at both wide receiver and return specialist.
Chattanooga is fourth in both preseason SoCon polls, finishing just two points back of Mercer in the coaches’ poll and 13 back in the media poll. The Mocs, who received votes in the Athlon Sports’ preseason national rankings, put eight players on the preseason All-SoCon teams.
Western Carolina and ETSU follow in fifth and sixth, respectively, in both SoCon polls. The Catamounts put eight players on the preseason squads, including five first-team selections, while the Bucs had six preseason all-conference selections.
Wofford is seventh in the coaches poll and is followed by The Citadel, while the order is reversed in the league’s media poll, with the Bulldogs edging the Terriers by a single point. Wofford is led by coach Shawn Watson, who enters his first full season at the helm after serving as the interim head coach for the last six games of last season, while first-time head coach Maurice Drayton returns to his alma mater to lead The Citadel.
VMI, which will be under the direction of coach Danny Rocco for the first time this season, is ninth in both polls.
The SoCon’s 2023 season gets underway with Mercer taking on North Alabama on Saturday, Aug. 27, at the FCS Kickoff in Montgomery, Alabama. Preseason favorites Furman and Samford both open their seasons on Thursday, Aug. 31, while Saturday, Sept. 2, features seven SoCon squads in action.
2023 Preseason Southern Conference Coaches Poll
Team (1st-place votes) Total
T1. Furman (5) 59
T1. Samford (4) 59
3. Mercer 49
4. Chattanooga 47
5. Western Carolina 35
6. ETSU 29
7. Wofford 22
8. The Citadel 14
9. VMI 10
2023 Preseason All-Southern Conference Football Teams
Offensive Player of the Year: Michael Hiers, Sr., QB, Samford
Defensive Player of the Year: Jay Person, Sr., DL, Chattanooga
First team offense
QB Michael Hiers, Sr., Samford
RB Dominic Roberto, R-Sr., Furman
RB Ailym Ford, Sr., Chattanooga
OL Jacob Johanning, R-Sr., Furman
OL Pearson Toomey, R-Sr., Furman
OL John Thomas, Sr., Mercer
OL Jabari Brooks, Jr., Samford
OL Reid Williams, Jr., Chattanooga
OL Tyler Smith, R-Sr., Western Carolina
TE Ajay Belanger, Sr., Western Carolina
WR Devron Harper, Sr., Mercer
WR Ty James, R-Jr., Mercer
WR Chandler Smith, Sr., Samford
First team defense
DL Solomon Zubairu, Sr., Mercer
DL Joseph Mera, Sr., Samford
DL Ben Brewton, Sr., Chattanooga
DL Jay Person, Sr., Chattanooga
DL Micah Nelson, Jr., Western Carolina
LB Braden Gilby, Gr., Furman
LB Isaac Dowling, Jr., Mercer
LB Noah Martin, Jr., Samford
DB Travis Blackshear, Gr., Furman
DB Hugh Ryan, R-Sr., Furman
DB Kourtlan Marsh, Jr., Samford
DB Kameron Brown, Sr., Chattanooga
DB Alex Oliver, Sr., VMI
DB Andreas Keaton, Jr., Western Carolina
First team specialists
PK Richard McCollum, R-Sr., Western Carolina
P Jack Culbreath, Sr., VMI
LS Julian Ashby, R-Jr., Furman
RS Devron Harper, Sr., Mercer
Second team offense
QB Tyler Huff, Gr., Furman
RB Jay Stanton, Sr., Samford
RB Desmond Reid, So., Western Carolina
OL Israel Mukwiza, R-Jr., Mercer
OL Bryce Goodner, R-So., Chattanooga
OL Tyriq Poindexter, R-So., VMI
OL Christian Coulter, Sr., Western Carolina
OL Jason Swann, Sr., Wofford
TE Noah West, R-Jr., ETSU
WR Will Huzzie, R-Sr., ETSU
WR Joshua Harris, Jr., Furman
Second team defense
DL Max Evans, R-Jr., ETSU
DL Jack Barton, R-Sr., Furman
DL Sirod Cook, Gr., Furman
DL Matt Sochovka, Gr., Furman
DL Savio Frazier, Jr., Mercer
DL Marlon Taylor, R-Jr., Chattanooga
DL Chuck Smith, Sr., Wofford
LB Ken Standley, R-Jr., Mercer
LB Evan Eller, Sr., VMI
LB Antoine Williams, R-Jr., Western Carolina
DB Sheldon Arnold II, Jr., ETSU
DB Kam Brinson, R-Sr., Furman
DB Richie Coffey, Sr., Mercer
DB Myles Redding, Jr., Mercer
DB Lance Wise, Sr., Mercer
DB Reuben Lowery III, Jr., Chattanooga
Second team specialists
PK Ian Williams, R-Jr., Furman
P Trace Kelley, R-So., ETSU
LS Ryan Phillips, So., ETSU
RS Wayne Anderson Jr., R-Sr., Furman
NOTE: Coaches were not permitted to vote for their own players or team.
2023 Preseason Southern Conference Media Poll
Team (1st-place votes) Total
1. Furman (30) 345
2. Samford (8) 316
3. Mercer (2) 263
4. Chattanooga 250
5. Western Carolina 218
6. ETSU 143
7. The Citadel 103
8. Wofford 102
9. VMI 60
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