Samford sweeps top OVC honors in 2003
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Hill, a 6-foot-2, 170-pound junior from Atlanta, Ga., caught an OVC-record 92 passes for 1,387 yards and an OVC-record 15 TD's in leading the Bulldogs to the top of the league’s rankings in pass offense and scoring offense. His receiving yardage total in 2003 was the second-highest in OVC history and his average of 126.1 yards per game was the most in I-AA football this season. He is currently second in the nation in receptions per game (8.36), and he is one of 16 finalists for the Walter Payton Award, which honors the top offensive player in Division I-AA. Hill caught at least one touchdown pass in all but one game this season, and he has now grabbed 143 passes in his career for 2,170 yards and 21 scores. He was named to the first-team offense of the NCAA I-AA Independent squad in 2002.
Finnegan, a 5-foot-10, 166-pound sophomore from Milton, Fla., led the OVC with an average of 9.8 tackles per game. He was second in the conference with 108 stops, and he ranked third in the league with 11 passes defended, including three interceptions. Finnegan scored on an interception return, a fumble return and a kickoff return this season, and he also led the OVC in kick return average with 27.5 yards per attempt. He adds the league’s defensive player of the year award to several honors that he received after his freshman season, including I- AA All-American as a kick returner and first team defense and special teams on the NCAA I-AA Independent squad.
Gray earned OVC Coach of the Year honors in his first season in the league after leading Samford, which was picked to finish eighth out of nine teams in the preseason poll, to an impressive 7-4 overall mark and a 5-3 record in the conference, tying the team for third in the OVC standings. It was the Bulldogs’ best finish in five years. Samford led the league in scoring offense, pass offense, pass efficiency, kickoff returns and third-down conversions. The Bulldogs also allowed the fewest sacks and were the least-penalized team in the conference in 2003.
Southeast Missouri led the way by having six players selected to the All-OVC first team, while Eastern Kentucky had five and Tennessee State had four. Making the squad from Southeast were junior tight end Ray Goodson, junior guard Dan Bieg, junior placekicker Derek Kutz, senior defensive lineman Ryan Roth, senior linebacker Ricky Farmer and junior defensive back Dimitri Patterson. Selected from EKU were senior center Larry Turner, junior return specialist Allen Evans, junior defensive lineman Chad Dewberry, junior linebacker Justen Rivers and senior defensive back Donnell Allison. Chosen from TSU were junior running back Charles Anthony, senior wide receiver C.J. Johnson, junior defensive lineman Paul Thomas and senior defensive back Scott Cunningham.
Also named to the All-OVC first team from Samford was junior quarterback Ray Nelson. From league champion Jacksonville State, senior running back Kory Chapman, senior offensive tackle Levet Jones and junior punter Richie Rhodes were selected. Also chosen were senior guard Burt Shurette and senior linebacker Daniel Wentzel from Tennessee Tech, along with junior defensive lineman Marcus White from Murray State.
FIRST TEAM OFFENSE: QB - Ray Nelson, Samford; RB - Charles Anthony, Tennessee State; RB - Kory Chapman, Jacksonville State; WR - Efrem Hill, Samford; WR - C.J. Johnson, Tennessee State; TE - Ray Goodson, Southeast Missouri; C - Larry Turner, Eastern Kentucky; OG - Dan Bieg, Southeast Missouri; OG - Burt Shurette, Tennessee Tech; OT - Frank Castagnoli, Eastern Illinois; OT - Levet Jones, Jacksonville State; PK - Derek Kutz, Southeast Missouri; RS - Allen Evans, Eastern Kentucky.
FIRST TEAM DEFENSE: DL - Chad Dewberry, Eastern Kentucky; DL - Ryan Roth, Southeast Missouri; DL - Paul Thomas, Tennessee State; DL - Marcus White, Murray State; LB - Ricky Farmer, Southeast Missouri; LB - Nick Ricks, Eastern Illinois; LB - Justen Rivers, Eastern Kentucky; LB - Daniel Wentzel, Tennessee Tech; DB - Donnell Allison, Eastern Kentucky; DB - Scott Cunningham, Tennessee State; DB - Cortland Finnegan, Samford; DB - Dimitri Patterson, Southeast Missouri; P - Richie Rhodes, Jacksonville State.
OVC OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Efrem Hill, Samford.
OVC DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Cortland Finnegan, Samford.
OVC COACH OF THE YEAR: Bill Gray, Samford.