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Chris Hatcher’s Homecoming

By BJ Bennett
SouthernPigskin.com
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Much of Chris Hatcher's story stems just a few hundred miles from where he grew up, perhaps part of what makes the man unique

When Samford plays its next game on the road at SEC power Georgia, it will, in some ways, be a trip back in time for head coach Chris Hatcher. The third-year leader of the Bulldogs has played a prominent role in the Peach State's pigskin history, with a storied legacy as both a player and a coach. Hatcher's road, through red clay and white cotton, will come full circle in a return to his roots this weekend. Though Hatcher has moved from spot to spot, his charm has stayed the same.

A Macon-native who attended Mount de Sales as a grade-schooler, Hatcher emerged as an award-winning quarterback at Valdosta State, the beginning of what would be a multi-faceted, transformational career in "Titletown". Hatcher twice earned All-American honors, finishing his career with 11,363 passing yards and 121 touchdowns. As a senior, Hatcher won the Harlon Hill Trophy, given to the top Division II player, by, at the time, the second-largest voting margin ever. He finished his playing career with 17 national records.

Hatcher, also, twice received the Gulf South Conference Commissioner's Trophy given to the league's Most Outstanding Student-Athlete. His final season, Hatcher was the CoSIDA Academic All-America National Player of the Year, in addition to numerous other academic distinctions.   

After successful coaching stints at Central Florida and Kentucky, Hatcher was named the head coach at his alma mater in 2000, ultimately rewriting the program's history. There, he implemented his famed "Hatch Attack" offense with two-time Harlon Hill winner Dusty Bonner and, just as he did as a player, elevated the overall status quo. Valdosta State went from 4-7 to 10-2 in Hatcher's debut season, earning a spot in the playoffs. Hatcher, this time from the top-down, continued to develop the Blazers into a national power.    

In the early 2000s, Valdosta State, under Hatcher, won a Gulf South record 35 consecutive games. Hatcher, three years in a row and four years out of five, was recognized with coach of the year honors. In 2004, the Blazers rallied all of the way to a national title, defeating Pittsburg State 36-31 in a memorable landmark victory. At 14-1, it was a run for the record books for both Hatcher and Valdosta State.

Hatcher, the quarterback, led the Blazers to their first-ever postseason bid; years later, Hatcher, the coach, led Valdosta State to its first-ever national championship.

Up Highway 84, Hatcher later replaced Brian VanGorder at Georgia Southern and immediately led the Eagles to their second-best regular season turnaround ever. Among other accomplishments under Hatcher, Georgia Southern set a new NCAA mark in 2008 for largest fourth quarter comeback ever in a win at Western Carolina. Hatcher also helped develop quarterback Jayson Foster, the 2007 Walter Payton Award winner.  

At Samford, Hatcher is fresh off a trip to the FCS playoffs and has the Bulldogs ranked in the national polls. All-SoCon quarterback Delvin Hodges is Hatcher's newest pupil. 

Much of Hatcher's story stems just a few hundred miles from where he grew up, perhaps part of what makes the man unique. Though somewhat-limited in terms of miles traveled, Hatcher's influence has been wide-reaching.   

Early in his tenure at Valdosta State, Hatcher had two now well-known defensive assistants on his staff: South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp and Georgia head coach Kirby Smart. The two men followed each other as coordinators at Valdosta State, overlapping once in 2000. Smart went from position coach to calling the plays in his initial stop following his playing career and a brief administrative stay in Athens. From his time with Hatcher, Smart went on to work as a graduate assistant at Florida State before joining Nick Saban at LSU.   

The paths of Hatcher and Smart, sons of long-time Georgia high school football coaches, have long been intertwined. Albeit on a different stage and on different sidelines, the two friends will soon share a football field once again. Kirby's father, Sonny, will have a fascinating perspective on the meeting as he played offensive line at, of all places, Samford.   

Few people know the game like Chris Hatcher. In the state where he was born, raised and then some, many, however, know the impact he has had.

BJ Bennett - B.J. Bennett is SouthernPigskin.com's founder and publisher. He is the co-host of "Three & Out" with Kevin Thomas and Ben Troupe on the "Southern Pigskin Radio Network". Email: bj@espncoastal.com / Twitter: @BJBennettSports