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Raiders wrap up spring football with Black vs. White game, alumni golf tourney

ASHLAND — Riding the momentum of a 12-1 season and another appearance in the NAIA Championship Series semifinals, the Southern Oregon University football team is back at work and preparing to defend its Frontier Conference title in 2018.

Friday’s annual Black vs. White Spring Game, which kicks off at 6 p.m. at Raider Stadium, will be the culmination of four weeks of spring practice. Festivities begin at 3 p.m. with the Raider Red Zone tailgate behind the scoreboard at the north end of the stadium.

On Saturday, Ashland’s Oak Tree Northwest Bar and Grill will sponsor the ninth annual Southern Oregon Football Alumni Club Golf Tournament for the second year in a row. A shotgun start is set for 8 a.m. at Eagle Point Golf Club. For the last four years, Oak Tree Northwest has also served as the official sponsor of the “Kids Free” program that allows children 12-and-under free admission to all SOU home athletic events.

The Raiders have 88 players on the roster for head coach Charlie Hall’s second spring in charge. Sixteen of them are new to the squad, while the rest — including redshirts — were around for the run in 2017 that landed the Raiders at No. 4 in the NAIA postseason coaches’ poll. The Black and White teams will split up equally by units — for example, one team’s defense may include the first-unit linebackers and second-team linemen. They’ll play four quarters with a running clock (except for the last minute of the first half and the last two minutes of the second half) and limited special teams action with the ball spotted on the 25-yard line in lieu of kickoffs.

The Black team will be headed by third-year defensive coordinator James Gravelle, and the White team by eighth-year offensive coordinator Ken Fasnacht.

Admission to the game is free, but SOU is teaming with Butler Automotive Group and KOBI in encouraging fans to drop off jars of peanut butter to fight hunger. The ultimate goal is to collect 10,000 pounds — jars can also be dropped off at any Butler location — and all donations will benefit ACCESS Food Share and the Boys & Girls Club of Talent.

SOU is set to welcome a handful of new faces to the sidelines on Friday. Guest coaching duties will be handled by local news personalities: KTVL’s Brian Schnee for the Black team, and KDRV’s Jake Garcia and Jacob Kornhauser for the White team. SOU School of Business Associate Professor Dennis Slattery will be the White team’s honorary captain, and he’ll match up with SOU Mathematics Professor Lisa Wileman of the Black team.

Staff Shuffle

Prior to spring practice, SOU alum and defensive line coach Grant Torgerson accepted a graduate assistant position at Central Washington, which triggered some shuffling within the rest of the staff. Carlton Hall, a veteran coach who joined SOU last fall via Northwestern Oklahoma State, has moved from linebackers to take over the defensive line unit, and Bryan Sander has moved from cornerbacks to linebackers coach — a position he formerly held when he joined the staff in 2014. Charlie Hall will now assist with the cornerbacks after doing so with the tight ends last year.

“The continuity on this staff is something that I think separates us from a lot of teams at this level,” Hall said. “It’s been critical since before I got here, and going forward it’s going to keep this program where it should be.”

During the spring, the Raiders have gotten coaching help from several former standout players: linebacker Isiah Carter, defensive lineman Sam Woods, center Christmas Aumua and receiver Jeremy Scottow. SOU Hall-of-Fame coach Jeff Olson, who won 50 games with the Raiders from 1996-2004, is also with the staff.

What to Watch — Defense

The 2018 Raider defense will look a lot like the one that was among the best in team history last season. They’ll return seven players who started for a unit that held every regular-season opponent under 30 points for the first time since 1982, led the NAIA in sacks per game (4.7), ranked 17th in scoring defense (21.6) and posted 39 takeaways. Four seniors-to-be are among their primary weapons: Associated Press All-America defensive end Sean Rogers (12 sacks in 2017), All-Frontier middle linebacker Devvon Gage (299 career tackles), and outside linebacker Tyson Cooper (team-high 108 tackles in ‘17) and third-year starting cornerback A.J. Cooper.

There are a few holes to fill, namely at the safety position, where the Raiders must replace dominant, all-conference performers Keegan Lawrence and Oshay Dunmore. Returners Tyler Dean (who started SOU’s opener), Luke Goins (who played primarily on special teams) and Jeret Musser are in the mix with Jordon Londo, a transfer from Chaffey College (Calif.). The defensive line lost a couple of starters, too, in Armando Gauger and Sam Woods, but both were injured for the last two months of the season. A core group consisting of Rogers, August Forrest III, Tre Holmes, James Porter and Masi Tunoa will get deeper, though, with the addition of transfer John Jackson, who at 6-foot-2, 285 pounds, played his first three seasons at Portland State.

What to Watch — Offense

At the moment, the Raider offense has just one glaring deficiency: a starting quarterback. Which is not to say that the Raiders lack options in replacing Tanner Trosin, the 2017 Frontier Conference Offensive Player of the Year who accounted for 38 touchdowns and helped SOU rank top-five nationally in passing yards per game for the fifth time in six years. His graduation opened the door for what has been a four-man competition for the job this spring between returning players Trent Banner, Wyatt Hutchinson and Jaylen Tregle, and transfer Chase Knutz. Banner and Tregle redshirted their freshman seasons in 2017 while Hutchinson, a sophomore-to-be, served as Trosin’s backup after transferring from Western Oregon. Knutz had a standout prep career at Hermiston High, where he was the OSAA Class 5A Offensive Player of the Year, and initially landed at Portland State in 2016. He redshirted with the Vikings and did not compete last season.

“We’ll see who’s ready,” Hall said. “Obviously that’s the biggest question on offense, but it’s nice to have a lot of people around those guys who know what they’re doing.”

Included are a pair of well-established receivers, Bronsen Ader (93 yards per game in 2017) and Jordan Suell (72 YPG, 9 TDs in ‘17), and the top tailbacks on last year’s depth chart, Rey Vega (712 rushing yards, 11 TDs) and Michael Roots (345 yards, 8 TDs). The Raiders will also get back senior tight end Ben Bachman — a starter who redshirted last season due to injury — and only lost a couple faces on a line that will beef up with the additions of Josiah Maglente-Tonu (6-6, 265), who moves over from defense, and American River transfer Isaiah Tharp (6-4, 320).