Southern Oregon University [1]

Top-ranked Raiders Slide Helmets Back On For First Day Of Practice

Contributed by admin on Aug 20, 2015 - 11:08 PM

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ASHLAND – With three weeks separating Saturday's season-opening practice and top-ranked Southern Oregon University's first game at fourth-ranked Carroll, the Raiders won't have to wait long for some excitement.

They will, however, have a lot of sorting out to do before then. SOU opened fall camp with 140 players, adding on to the 96 who were enrolled for spring camp and the 60-70 who participated in summer workouts. The Raiders started last season with 125, which was at that time the biggest number in the Craig Howard [3] era.

Howard, now in his fifth season as head coach, anticipated a bigger spotlight regardless of the numbers. Following up the program's first NAIA title, the Raiders are in for a pressure-packed opening with their first games at Carroll – the favorite to win the Frontier Conference – on Sept. 5, and at Raider Stadium against 13th-ranked Eastern Oregon on Sept. 12.

"When we look at our guys, how we've gone to work this offseason and the focus they have, you know they want to get back to the spot they were in," Howard said. "They want to get back to playing for a championship and we're excited for the challenge. The Frontier Conference will be as competitive as ever, but as a competitor, that's the league you want to be in."

Competition within the team will begin in earnest on Monday, when SOU will be in full pads for the first time.

Third-year defensive coordinator Berk Brown [4], whose unit will be replacing four all-conference graduates, was pleased with first-day returns even without the pads.

"I think we came into camp, as a group, in the best shape we've been since coach Howard got here and it showed," Brown said. "When guys aren't gassed out they can think and they can react to how our defense needs to be played, and that goes a long way this time of year."

There is more work to be done offensively, too, than there was at this time a year ago, when the Raiders returned 10 of 11 starters and just minimal shuffling at stake on the depth chart. Co-offensive coordinator Ken Fasnacht [5] knows that most of the attention will be on the quarterback battle between returning players Jack Singler [6] (Medford, Ore./South Medford) and Kamerun Smith [7] (Eugene, Ore./Marist) and junior transfer Tanner Trosin. He said the coaching staff hopes to settle that matter within the next seven to nine days.

"The sooner we can make that decision, the better," Fasnacht said.

"The thing that probably we're most happy about as an offensive staff is we had really good tempo today," he added. "We got out and we were moving, knew where we were supposed to go, and we look like an offense early. I would say from an offensive, and probably a defensive perspective, that might be our best first day in five years."

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