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RB heads Raider recruits

Southern Oregon University football coach Steve Helminiak believes Josh Tobar could have had a successful collegiate career at somewhere like Montana, Portland State or Western Oregon.

But Helminiak is thrilled that Tobar, a running back from South Eugene High, will be wearing a Raider uniform in the fall.

The 5-foot-9, 208-pound Tobar looks to be Helminiak's prize recruit as the second-year coach attempts to turn the corner at SOU.

"This kid is a steal," said Helminiak, whose Raiders posted a 2-7 record in his first season at the helm. "He runs with speed, he runs with power and he can make you miss. I can't believe somebody from a (NCAA) Division IAA or Division II school didn't go after him.

"But their loss is our gain."

Tobar is one of 17 players that SOU recently signed to letters of intent.

Other top recruits include fullbacks Jordan Burchfiel from Cascade Christian High and Derek Kotowski from Sherwood; offensive linemen Seth Giandomenico from Canby and Derek Short from Hughson, Calif.; defensive lineman Matt Lake, a junior college transfer from Snow JC in Ephraim, Utah; linebacker Garrett Schaad, a transfer from Shasta Junior College in Redding, Calif.; and quarterback J.C. Hunsaker, another transfer from Shasta.

Tobar rushed for more than 1,200 yards, scored 15 touchdowns and averaged 5.5 yards per carry in leading South Eugene to an 8-4 record and a berth in the Class 6A state quarterfinals last season.

He could be the latest in a line of outstanding running backs at SOU, following in the footsteps of Raider all-time rushing leaders Dusty McGrorty (2000-2003) and Griff Yates (1996-99).

SOU returns its top two rushers from last season &

Shane Van Zant and Patrick Preyer &

and will also welcome redshirt freshman Gordon Grochowsky. But Helminiak said Tobar "will get the opportunity to come in and compete right way."

Whoever packs the pigskin should have some extra room to operate thanks to the arrival of Burchfiel and Kotowski, a couple of battering-ram fullbacks who led their high school teams to deep runs in the state playoffs, and offensive linemen Giandomenico and Short.

"Burchfiel and Kotowski are both big, strong, tough kids," Helminiak said. "And Giandomenico is a strong, athletic, 290-pounder that you can line up behind and gain yards.

"I like to run the football, and these kids are definitely going to help us be successful in that area."

The 6-5, 260-pound Short, meanwhile, grew up on an almond farm in the small, central California town of Hughson.

"He's a hard-nosed farm kid who's accustomed to hard work," Helminiak said. "He has great feet and can really move. We're projecting him to possibly be our left (offensive) tackle."

SOU averaged just 17.8 points, 102 yards rushing and 158 yards passing per game last season. The Raiders return sophomore Casey Mitchell at quarterback, but Hunsaker could push him for playing time. Mitchell came on toward the end of last season but finished with just 10 touchdown passes compared to 14 interceptions, and his completion percentage of .479 didn't please Helminiak.

"We need to be more proficient in the passing game," the SOU mentor said. "We feel pretty good about Casey Mitchell, but Hunsaker gives us a veteran presence. He's the son of a coach, a kid with good mechanics and good knowledge of the game."

SOU's strength last season was its defense, and it should get stronger with the addition of Lake and Schadd.

Lake, 6-3 and 272 pounds, has emerged as the team's strongest player. He hoisted 543 pounds on the squat rack and power-cleaned 350 pounds during a recent workout. Lake will step in immediately for the graduated Willis Cooley and Berk Brown on the defensive line.

"He's a horse," said Helminiak of Lake. "He came to us in the winter and he's been through all the workouts."

Schadd, 6-3 and 227 pounds, will push for a starting spot at linebacker or defensive end, Helminiak said, adding, "He's one of those athletes you've got to have on the field. He's physical and he can run."

SOU's other recruits include incoming freshmen Brent Koontz, a linebacker from Minden, Nev.; Alex Morrison, an offensive guard from South Eugene High; Drew Nobles, a defensive back from Palo Cedro, Calif.; Tory Snyder, a safety from Klamath Union High; Drew Steindel, a wide receiver from Newberg; Shane Tomich, a running back from Eagle Point; and Tyler Zinsli, a quarterback from Benson Tech in Portland.

The other JC transfers are wide receiver K.C. Clapsaddle (Shasta) and junior defensive back Daniel Patenaude (Butte).

Spring practice begins April 9 and the team's spring game is May 5.

The Raiders, who return eight starters on offense and seven on defense, open their season Aug. 25 at — p.m. against Montana Tech at Raider Stadium.

Reach reporter at 776-4469, or e-mail dhunt@mailtribune.com