Winning the Southern Cascade League title seemed like a pretty bold goal this spring considering the recent history of the Cascade Christian...
South Medford football player Jimmy Ditty and Crater cross country and track runner Jasmyn Andrews are taking far different paths to college, but each is pleased with their destinations.
Ditty, an all-conference lineman on both sides of the ball, flirted with the idea of walking on at Portland State and looked at other schools before deciding to stay close to home and play for coach Craig Howard at Southern Oregon University.
Andrews, meanwhile, signed on with NCAA Division I Morehead State University in Morehead, Ky., expanding a pipeline that already has, in a roundabout way, swept three former Comets to the South.
Former Southern Oregon University coach Brent Erickson is now at Morehead State. When he took the job last year, several Raider runners followed.
The national signing period began Wednesday and saw a flurry of activity. Other local athletes are expected to finalize their choices in the coming weeks.
Ditty, a 5-foot-111/2, 250-pounder, was a first-team all-Southwest Conference selection on the defensive line and was the second-team center.
Howard, who welcomed three area players into the fold on Wednesday — South Medford receiver and defensive back Matt Retzlaff, and offensive linemen Dillon Henke of North Medford and Doug Francis of Rogue River — has been trying to land Ditty for the NAIA Division II Raiders for six months, he said.
"I believe he is going to have a chance to make an immediate impact," said Howard, adding that Ditty would be a Division I-caliber player if he was taller. "He gives us flexibility. He's an outstanding center and a heck of a nose tackle. We have to decide whether he'll be on offense or defense. He's just a tenacious football player. He's so dependable and so steady."
Early in the week, Ditty was still undecided on where to cast his lot. In addition to Portland State, he mulled Linfield College in McMinnville and Menlo College in Atherton, Calif.
"I narrowed it down to SOU as the best school for me and my family," said Ditty. "It's going to be a great program, I think, and it's very close to home. That's really key for me and my family."
That he'll be reunited with Retzlaff is a plus, he said, and he enjoyed meeting team members during a visit.
Ditty anchored both lines for a Panthers team that went 9-2 and made it to the second round of the state playoffs.
"They told me I could do either for them," Ditty said of playing offense or defense. "I'm not sure where they'll stick me. I love defense. I think I'm a defensive player. But wherever I'm needed, I'll go, and it'll be fine no matter where they put me."
A former world record-holder as a youth powerlifter, Ditty joins a program that must rebuild an offensive line that lost three starters to graduation. Another local player, sophomore-to-be Drew Gibson of North Medford, will contend for a starting spot, said Howard.
Linebacker Daniel Breaux was the only freshman on a roster of 105 players to start this past season, when the Raiders went 5-5. But a number of other first-year players saw action.
That Ditty comes out of coach Bill Singler's South Medford program is a plus, said Howard, noting that Singler — a former wide receiver at Stanford — has his players prepared for college ball.
"I'm excited for him," Singler said of Ditty. "It's a good fit. He has an opportunity to compete and play and make a difference."
Southern Oregon will shed its independent status and join the Frontier Conference, beginning with the 2012 season.
Meanwhile, Andrews will make quite a trek for college, but she'll have familiar teammates in former Crater runners Anya Martinez and Laurie Stoutenburgh on the women's team and Zach Elliott on the men's squad.
Erickson, a two-time coach of the year with the Raiders, is attempting to build an Eagles program that competes in the Ohio Valley Conference. Using runners out of the successful Crater program run by coach Justin Loftus seems a reasonable place to start.
"I know coach Loftus well and what a great program they've had there," said Erickson, referring to a half-dozen Comet boys and girls state titles in recent years. "Any time you're able to tap into a program like that and get one of its runners, it's a good thing."
Andrews' best finish in cross country was 22nd at the state meet as a junior last fall, when she ran a personal-best 19 minutes, 39 seconds for 5,000 meters. The time was 25 seconds better than what Martinez did at state, said Erickson, and the latter is now Morehead State's top woman runner.
Martinez was 16th in the OVC cross country championships last fall.
"I feel like Jasmyn has the kind of a ceiling," said Erickson, noting her top track times for the 800 meters (2:19.75) and the 1,500 (4:51.00) are encouraging as well.
One of Andrews' attributes is the speed she has as a distance runner. She competed at every distance at least once last track season from 100 to 1,500 meters.
Andrews said she was diagnosed as being lactose intolerant, and when that condition was stabilized, she saw steady improvement in her running.
"I really think track season will come together for her," said Loftus.
Then it'll be on to Kentucky.
"I think it's going to be a great experience," said Andrews, who has a 4.0 grade-point average and plans to study nursing. "I get to see the other side of the U.S. and experience life in a different place."
Erickson, the team and the area all get high marks from the former Comets already there, said Andrews.
"I'm just looking to keep improving and put forth the best effort I can and see what happens," she said.
Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 541-776-4479, or email firstname.lastname@example.org