ASHLAND — The Southern Oregon's quest for a second consecutive Frontier Conference title received a boost Wednesday as 34 student-athletes signed to join the team in 2013, head coach Craig Howard said.
Looking to build on their successful 2012 campaign, the Raiders announced a class of recruits that features top players from Oregon, California, Idaho and Washington.
"We are really excited about our 2013 signing class," Howard said. "I believe our coaching staff did a tremendous job of identifying prospects who are not only good athletes but good students who have demonstrated outstanding character and leadership potential."
SOU recruiters focused heavily on the offensive and defensive lines, while also bringing in seven wide receivers to help fill the void created by the graduation of SOU's top five pass catchers from 2012. Eight offensive and five defensive lineman join four linebackers, four running backs, four defensive backs and two quarterbacks in the class.
Kamerun Smith from Marist High School in Eugene stands as one of the top Oregon recruits. Smith is a 6-foot-5 quarterback who was named first-team all-state at Marist. The coaching staff focused on keeping top Oregon talent in the state, and many of the top recruits in the class hail from the Beaver State.
"We needed to bring in some young quarterbacks to develop in our system behind Austin Dodge," Howard said. "Kamerun Smith is, in my opinion, the best high school quarterback in the state of Oregon."
Running back Jaylynn Bailey signed from South Salem High School after earning first-team all-league and all-region as a senior. The 5-10, 210-pound tailback will help strengthen a running back corps that has to replace 1,000-yard rusher Manny Barragan.
Defensive tackles Jonathan Kenion and Xavier Banks could both make an early impact for the Raiders. Kenion, a 6-2, 260-pound defensive tackle, was a first-team all-league honoree at Clackamas High School, while Banks was a key defensive tackle for the back-to-back CIF State Champions at perennial high school power De La Salle in Concord, Calif.
A pair of top offensive linemen could step into the rotation right away to help protect Dodge and block for the running game. Dominic Baldocchi was a first-team all-league honoree at Jesuit High School in Portland, and Zach Wallace earned first-team honors at Dodge's alma mater of Skyview High School in Vancouver, Wash.
Austin Diffey leads the group of wide receiver newcomers who will look to maintain the pace of SOU's record-setting offense of 2012. The 5-10 Diffey was an all-state wide receiver at Eagle High School in Eagle, Idaho. Fellow wide receivers in the 2013 class include Dominic Giampaoli from Rocklin, Calif., Malik Goodlow from Stockton, Calif., and Louis Macklin from Elk Grove, Calif. Trace Noble of El Dorado Hills, Calif., Nate Vosika of Winston, and Osha Washington from Stockton, Calif., shore up a talent-laden set of wide receivers.
Julius Rucker headlines the defensive back corps after earning first-team all-league consideration on both offense and defense at Portland's Westview High School. The defensive back duo of Taylor Smith and Nathan Torres-Walker from Central Catholic High School in Portland also signed with the Raiders, as did Matthew Cuzzeto from Edmonds-Woodway High School in Edmonds, Wash.
In his two years at the helm of the SOU program, Howard has focused on improving team speed and building depth along the trenches. This class certainly accomplishes that, particularly along the offensive line.
Along with Baldocchi and Wallace, the SOU coaches signed six more offensive linemen to help the offense continue running on all cylinders in 2013 and beyond. Taeveon Thompson-Ashley signed out of Portland's Grant High School, while Connor Astley earned first-team all-league honors at Salem's Sprague High School. Larry Bowen earned first-team all-state recognition as a tight end at Coquille High School, and Cody Churchwell was an all-league honoree on both the offensive and defensive line at Canby High School. Austin Lee was a two-time all-league at Hart High School in Santa Clarita, Calif., and Sheridan Olds was a key presence on both the offensive and defensive lines at Hillsboro's Century High School.
Looking to replace a pair of all-conference performers in the defensive front-seven, the Raiders signed nine defensive linemen and linebackers. Joining potential early-contributors Banks and Kenion on the defensive line will be defensive tackle Garrett Andrews from Wildomar, Calif., defensive end Dean Kabir from Upland, Calif., and tackle Jacob Proul from Oak Ridge High School in Folsom, Calif.
In the linebacking corps, Kevin Blueford, Jr., was a two-time all-league first-team honoree at Inderkum High School in Sacramento, and Colin Davis earned first-team all-league recognition for West Linn High School. Two more first-team all-league performers will fill out the middle of the defense for the 2013 class, with Aaron Downes signing out of Springfield's Thurston High School and Bryce York signing out of Eugene's Willamette High School.
The Raiders also signed several running backs and one of the top athletes in Idaho to join the strong class of wide receivers on offense. Two-time conference player of the year Sean Tow signed out of Union Mine High School in Diamond Springs, Calif, with Errol Dennis III signing out of Merced High School and Leon Miles coming to SOU from Winston's Buhach Colony High School.
Austin Schaffer fills out the class as a first-team all-state quarterback at Columbia High School in Nampa, Idaho. Signing as an athlete for the 2013 class, Schaffer was the runner-up for Idaho's Gatorade Player of the Year.
"We're very proud of this group of recruits," Howard said. "After a great year in our first year in the Frontier Conference, we hope these young men will help us achieve even greater success in the years to come."
Southern Oregon tied a program record with nine wins last season as the Raiders advanced to the NAIA Football Championship Series quarterfinals for the fourth time in team history and ended the season ranked No. 5 in the final NAIA poll.