By JOHN ZENOR
AP Sports Writer
He expects at least 20 of those youngsters to play. "A lot of times when you change coaches the cupboard's bare. It wasn't totally bare," Sullivan said. "But it is a very, very young football team." That's one reason why Samford was picked to finish ninth in the 10-team Ohio Valley Conference this season after losing its final four games in 2006.
Sullivan does have a veteran quarterback to work with in senior Jefferson Adcock. Adcock has started 19 of the past 22 games, but only eight last year. After passing for 2,338 yards and 18 touchdowns as a sophomore, his numbers dropped precipitously to 915 and five.
He and Dante Williams split time at quarterback, but Adcock won back the job in the spring. "As the spring went on, he gained confidence," said Sullivan, who had been a UAB assistant since 1999. "That was the big thing, he knew where to go with the ball and didn't turn it over. That's where it all starts on offense.
"He's been around the block and got some leadership." A former quarterback himself, Sullivan will have some work to do getting the offense going. The Bulldogs ranked ninth in the league in scoring, averaging just 15 points per game and less than 100 yards rushing (99.5). A deep wide receiving corps is led by Jeff Moore, who ranked third in the league with 49 catches for 668 yards and five TDs last season.
The good news in the running game for Samford is that leading rusher Marcus Rice is back. The bad news? He gained just 322 yards last season. Rice will get competition from Harris Johnson and UAB transfer Chris Evans, who was redshirted last season for the Blazers. Johnson's 2006 season ended with a knee injury in the third game. "All three of them are going to play," Sullivan said.
"They all bring some different things to the table. Without question, we're going to need all three of them this fall." He's relying on the combination to improve a struggling running game that produced just eight touchdowns and 3.6 yards per carry. "If we have 300 yards for our leading rusher, we're going to be hurting, I would think," Sullivan said.
The backs will have three starting blockers back, tackles Tommy Smith and Colby Hooper and guard John Weber. The most experienced group in a young defense will be linebacker, with starters Jay McCurty, Rodney Shepherd and Quinton Smith returning. Shepherd led the team with 82 tackles last season.
Defensive tackles Mark Brown and Haris Kovacevic and defensive back B.T. Hartloge are the only other returning starters on defense. The Bulldogs had two redshirt freshmen and a sophomore expected to start on that side. The Bulldogs also will likely have first-year starters in punter John Soto and placekicker Mark Prevost.
They open the season Aug. 30 against West Alabama then visit Georgia Tech. "I'm really excited about our football team," Sullivan said. "We're not picked very high and that's to be expected.
But since January, when we started our offseason program, our kids have worked as good as any group that I've ever been around. And I'm not just saying that. "They really have done an outstanding job."