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No stars, no problem

The stars that soaked up the spotlight for the better — part of four years at Raider Stadium are long gone, leaving behind a dust — trail of records and memorable moments that define the greatest stretch — in team history.

Nevertheless, Southern Oregon University head football — coach Jeff Olson is not reminiscing about one of Dusty McGrorty's great — runs, or Andrae Thurman's spectacular catches, or Nick Daniken's bone-jarring — hits. Nor is he talking about rebuilding.

Actually, what he's doing is a little out of character — and unusual. He's leaning back in his chair, describing the cast of no — names that make up his 2004 roster, clearly trying to hide a smile as — he's doing so.

"This group, they don't have the track record that our — last couple teams have had," he said. "There's not going to be a lot of — name recognition. But these are a bunch of guys that are just going to — go play. They're anxious for their turn."

They'll get that turn Saturday at home against Si Tanka — Huron, and if Olson's expression - the nodding of the head, the raising — of

the eyebrows - is telling the truth, the Raiders may not — suffer quite the drop off some people expect.

Olson and company have reason to be optimistic. Despite — heavy losses to graduation, SOU will roll out a team loaded with talent — - thanks to great back-to-back recruiting classes and a few key transfers — - and anxious to prove itself.

Nowhere will that talent be more evident than on the defensive — line, where the Raiders will average more than 300 pounds in the middle. — Leading that unit will be 5-foot-11, 325-pound tackle Pete Tuialuuluu, — 6-3, 315-pound tackle Josh Redeau-Clark and 6-4, 235-pound lineman Dustin — Mari.

All three are quick for their size, but the addition of — Tuialuuluu - he transferred here from Division I school Southern Utah — - could lift the unit from the ranks of very good to great.

"This is going to be a fun group," Olson said.

On offense, the Raiders will take the field without a — star tailback for the first time in nearly a decade, but will look to — a slight change in philosophy to improve their offensive production.

Senior Bill Jolin (5-11, 185) and senior transfer Antar — Mahasin (5-7, 185) will be the running-back-by-commitee crew, with Jolin — starting. Sophomore Curt Stout (5-9, 190) will start at fullback, but — will be required to do more than just block if Olson sticks to his plan — to utilize backs more as receivers.

It's a change Olson said will open up the offense.

"Screens, hot releases - when people bring pressure we — can release backs now and we're going to get the ball to people out of — the backfield," he said.

That's not the only change the Raiders will be making. — Behind quarterback Brandon Griffith - one of many seniors who's been waiting — in the wings and will finally get his shot - SOU plans to air it out a — little more this year in an attempt to stretch the field vertically.

Griffith (6-1, 220), who started the final game of 2003, — has two of the Raiders' top-three receiving threats from a year ago back — - of course, the one who's moved on is Thurman, one of the best Raider — receivers ever. Junior Bobby Poeltl (5-9, 170) and senior Carl Dice (6-3, — 190) will start and play together often, except when the Raiders go to — a two-tight end set.

"It's an impressive group," Olson said. "I think Bobby's — our home run hitter, a guy that can shake and bake and make things happen, — and Carl Dice has the ability to go deep."

Whether or not Griffith - or second-string QB Boomer Marshall — - will have time to throw is another matter. Southern will start a young — offensive line that probably represents the least experienced crew on — the entire team. It includes a true freshman (Adam Akau) at center, a — sophomore (Travis Wheeler) at right guard and a two-year backup (Steve — Thomas) at left tackle.

"It's a young group," Olson said, "but they've worked — their tails off and like I've always said here, when somebody leaves - — whether it's by graduation or injury - it means it's an opportunity for — somebody else, and that's the way this offensive line is going to be."

While the line should be the strength of the defense, — the Raiders will also field a solid crop of linebackers that have good — chemistry and, most importantly, know defensive coordinator Shay McClure's — system. David Zauher (6-0, 210), last year's leading tackler, Chad Harrell — (6-1, 215), Taylor Hermes (6-0, 240), David Pettersen (6-0, 205) and James — Williams (6-3, 210) all will see time there.

In the secondary, Olson said free safety Mike O'Brien — (6-1, 185) will be the glue that holds things together. He'll be playing — with strong safety and team captain Toby Walker (5-8, 170) and cornerbacks — Kellan Quick (6-1, 180) and Madison Caeser (5-9, 175).

Walker, one of the team's vocal leaders, predicted that — the Raider 'D' will be better than last year.

"No stars," he said. "It's just a lot of hard-nosed football — players. We've got guys solid everywhere, all over. So, we're not going — to stand out anywhere, but we're not going to have any holes, either."

And Olson's grin - the look of a man who has a surprise — in the closet - suggests that Walker's synopsis of SOU's defense can go — for the Raiders as a whole, too.

"It's just a group of young guys that are ready to play," — he said. "And if they can weather the valleys and stay pretty humble on — the peaks, this is going to be a fun group."