The Southern Oregon University football team reached across six states and kept eight players in the Rogue Valley to nail down an incoming class of 33 freshmen, which was announced on National Signing Day Wednesday by head coach Craig Howard.
The Raiders, in an effort to solidify a program that won the Frontier Conference championship in 2012 and was second in 2013, inked 17 offensive players, 15 defensive and one punter to join the team this fall. Howard, entering his fourth season in 2014, said an emphasis was put on strengthening the defense to complement the nation's top-scoring offense.
"We love having players here and developing them for four years, and our coaching staff did an excellent job of finding a nice balance and building depth at a lot of positions," Howard said. "We always start out recruiting the best local players we can but this year we also got some guys out of places we haven't recruited from before."
Of the locals, tight end Jacob Ridgeway, defensive lineman Tristen Lallo and kicker/punter Riley Williams are South Medford products; receivers Carlos Flores and Lucas Morris come from Eagle Point; receiver Jonah Musser from Grants Pass; outside linebacker/lineman Tanner Parker from Cascade Christian; and receiver Dallin George from Crater.
Williams was an all-conference kicker and a highly-touted punter for the Panthers. Flores piled up 817 reception yards and eight touchdowns, while Morris had 1,013 all-purpose yards for the Eagles. George, Parker and Ridgeway were all-conference selections.
Seven other signees in the bunch are also Oregon products, including three from Class 6A state champion Central Catholic: all-conference receivers Chase Cole (the brother of SOU volleyball player Brookelynn Cole) and Holden Oglesbee, and all-conference defensive end Sean Rogers.
Also joining the Raiders will be Gresham tight end Ben Bachman, who earned first-team all-conference honors on both sides of the ball with 600 receiving yards; Dylan Marsh, an all-conference linebacker from Glencoe; Kraig Pruett, a first-team all-conference slot receiver from Waldport; and Hutu Spencer, an all-conference running back from Reynolds.
Headlining the out-of-state defenders is Kelii Padello — a 5-foot-11, 215-pound outside linebacker who was the state defensive player of the year at Hawaii's Mililani High. SOU nabbed three more linebackers in Lanre Akomolafe of California's Folsom High, Isiah Carter of Las Vegas' Canyon Springs and Brendan Gormley of Sacramento's Christian Brothers. All three were all-conference selections, and Carter was all-state.
The Raiders also added five defensive backs, including two who were teammates of Carter's at Canyon Springs: RaeQuan Baschombe and Austin Cooper. Tyler Dean of Inderkum High in Sacramento, Kendel Johnson of California's Central Valley, and Hunter Birrer of Mountain View in Boise, Idaho, round out the group. Each was an all-league selection at either linebacker or defensive back.
Armando Gauger (6-1, 225) of Atwater, Calif., and T.J. Molina of Arbucker (6-3, 215), Calif., give the Raiders a pair of sizable defensive lineman. On the opposite line, they added Terry Dodd (6-3, 260) from Las Vegas, Carter Latno (6-4, 255) from Sonoma, Calif., and Antonio Pulido (6-1, 277) from Vancouver, Wash.
At the skill positions, SOU added to its plethora of receivers with Bronsen Ader — a conference MVP and teammate of Padello's at Mililani — and Lantz Worthington, an all-conference receiver at Las Vegas' Centennial High capable of playing multiple positions. Isaac Hurd will come from Hawaii's Campbell High as the lone quarterback, and Vince Volpatti from Valley Christian in Livermore, Calif., gives the Raiders another running back who was also an all-star DB.
"Every coach on our staff has an area in-state and out of state to recruit in," Howard said, "and we think we covered a lot of ground and got some good ones."
Howard previously announced the signings of ex-South Medford stars Adrian Garcia and Jack Singler, who have already transferred to SOU. In Singler, Musser and Cooper, the Raiders added the sons of three high school head coaches.
Said Howard: "It's always a bittersweet time of year, because you get a lot of the guys you wanted and you lose some. But we're very excited to get these guys on campus and see what they can do for a long time."