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Raiders ready for spring game

A month of spring practice affirmed what the Southern Oregon University football staff already believed to be true: The 2014 edition of the Raiders has the talent to go down as one of the most special in school history.

Their reward for surviving April, and fans' first chance to preview the Raiders, is the Red and White spring game tonight at Raider Stadium. Kickoff is set for 6 and admission is free.

Fans can buy raffle tickets at the tailgate — which opens at 4 p.m. outside the stadium — for the chance to win shirts, hats and other apparel. The chance to call plays, one offensive and defensive per quarter, is also on the table for raffle winners.

The customary offense-versus-defense format has been ditched in favor of two complete teams. Raider coaches held a draft last week, selecting players in pods, as fourth-year head coach Craig Howard explained. A right guard was packaged with a right tackle, for example, or a left defensive end with a left linebacker.

"We've had a great spring, worked extremely hard and stayed injury-free for the most part," Howard said. "Now it's important for us to put on a good show and finish up strong so we can head into the next phase, which is finishing up the school year and getting into our summer programs."

Fall camp opens on Aug. 8 and the first game of the 2014 season is Aug. 30 at Menlo College. The Raiders then open in Ashland against defending Frontier Conference champion Carroll College on Sept. 6.

SOU boasted a 7-3 Frontier record in 2013 and is ranked 24th in the NAIA spring top 25.

Howard has been struck in the spring by what he believes is the best offensive line the Raiders have had during his tenure to put in front of quarterback Austin Dodge, the two-time Frontier offensive MVP.

"When you have a great offensive line to protect Austin Dodge, it helps you sleep better at night," he said. "They've been great, the receiving corps looks great, and I think our running backs are getting ready to have huge seasons."

Sophomores-to-be Melvin Mason and Sean Tow will carry the ball.

The Raider defense — including veteran starters Daniel Breaux, Heston Altenbach, Dustin Fretwell, Laurence Calcagno and Eagle Point product Steven Josephson — has been equally impressive.

"We've been so young on defense every year and we finally have some experience," Howard said, "so we expect a lot out of those guys."