ASHLAND — The Southern Oregon football team's first full-squad practice with head coach Charlie Hall is in the books as of Thursday afternoon, exactly three weeks ahead of the season-opener at Raider Stadium against seventh-ranked Eastern Oregon.
As always, there is plenty of catching up to do. A few notes as the Raiders prepare for their sixth season in the Frontier Conference:
INSIDE THE NUMBERS: Hall anticipated around 115 to 120 players would report to camp, just a handful more than the 108 the Raiders started with last fall. The number was 140 in 2015, coming off the program's first national title, but a new team room beneath the stadium seats was constructed with 115 lockers, giving the staff reason to trim it down.
While the 2017 roster is still being finalized, the spring version had 60 players back from last season, including 41 who have seen game action and a senior class of 19.
Newcomers reported on Tuesday and got two practices under their belts before the team came together in full. Hall noted that many of them spent time on campus during the summer, fitting in a couple workouts with the team around their school registration days.
Among the newcomers, locals like Tre Holmes, a standout defensive lineman from North Medford, and quarterback Craig Contreras, a South Medford product who transferred in from Butte College (Calif.), were able to be present all summer.
"Looking at the summer commitment from our players, the coaches who have been here say it's as good as it's been during the better years, and the quality of work was strong," Hall said. "I think there's good guys here who have done a great job preparing, and it gives me confidence going into this thing."
THE TIMELINE: The Raiders began practice in helmets only on Thursday but will have transitioned to full pads by Monday. At that time, they'll also start conducting two-a-day practices every other day. Their first chance to see someone else is next Thursday, Aug. 17, when College of the Siskiyous (Calif.) will visit for a scrimmage/pro-style practice, just as it did last year.
Five days later the Raiders will hold an intrasquad scrimmage, and after that they'll be on to Eastern Oregon prep work.
Along with positional meetings and breakdowns, Hall has made a point to set aside time for SOU to outline the bigger picture as a team. At one upcoming meeting, an alumni panel will speak about life during their eras as Raiders and answer questions.
"We're trying to define the culture we have here, and obviously (the late coach Craig Howard) still has a lot to say about how that's been shaped," Hall said. "Everyone is learning and trying to build on what we've done in years past, and if we do a good job of holding each other accountable we should be in good shape. But the standard is still high; we still want to win championships and do it the right way."
THE POLLS: After going 5-5 in the Frontier last season, good for fourth place, the Raiders were tied for third with Carroll last week in the conference's preseason coaches' poll, behind defending champion Montana Tech and NAIA semifinalist Eastern Oregon.
Four Frontier teams were included in this week's preseason NAIA Top 25: Montana Tech at No. 6, EOU at No. 7, Montana Western at No. 19, and SOU at No. 25.
Though the 2016 Raiders won fewer than seven games for the first time since joining the Frontier and lost several players who helped them go deep into the national playoffs, they return eight defensive starters and seven on offense, five of whom have been all-conference selections. That number matches Montana Tech for the most in the Frontier.
The big one is quarterback Tanner Trosin, a dual-threat sparkplug who shined two years ago but was granted a medical redshirt last year after sustaining a season-ending injury during SOU's second game.
The team's other All-Frontier performers are center Christmas Aumua, linebackers Isiah Carter and Devvon Gage and safety Keegan Lawrence, as well as kicker Marcus Montana and punter Louis DesPrez.
"When you look us objectively on paper, we were picked third mainly because of the optics of our team — a lot of returning players," Hall said. "And when you add Tanner back into the mix, that changes a lot of things on the field and gives us a chance to be really competitive. But all those things are on paper."