Bryan Lee-Lauduski is glad to be playing football again.
His decision to come back has worked out well for Southern Oregon, too.
Fresh off a two-year break from college football that took him from UC Davis back to his home town of San Diego, the Raiders' second most-hyped recruit of 2007 has rejuvenated a passing attack that stumbled through most of last season.
While Washington State transfer Derrell Hutsona has yet to break out of the backfield, Lee-Lauduski, a sophomore quarterback, has thrown for 713 yards and eight touchdowns through two games &
startling numbers considering that the Raiders didn't gain 700 passing yards last season until game No. 6, and finished the year with 10 passing TDs.
Lee-Lauduski will try to add to his outstanding start Saturday, when SOU travels to Pocatello, Idaho to take on Idaho State.
The Raiders enter the money game &
SOU will get $40,000 from ISU &
riding high after a 48-45 quadruple-overtime win over Eastern Oregon. Two days before the game SOU head coach Steve Helminiak said that the Raiders would come out throwing. He wasn't kidding. Lee-Lauduski completed 25 of 47 passes for 415 yards and four scores, including the 25-yard game-winning strike to Steve Jorgensen.
How has the passing game made such an astonishing leap under a first-year QB? Helminiak says the improvement is team-wide.
"At receiver, we're better," he said. "We've added a few kids that are buying into the system, and the guys that are returning guys have been in it now for two springs and a fall, so they understand it a lot better. And (Lee-Lauduski) at quarterback is really a special guy. He's got a rocket arm, he reads really well and he's pretty calm back there."
Calm, possibly, because the NAIA game is a notch or two slower than what he's used to. After getting beaten out for the starting quarterback job at UC Davis, an NCAA Division I-AA (now known as the Championship Subdivision) school, Lee-Lauduski quit four games into the 2004 season and joined the Aggies' baseball team. He left the school in the spring of 2005 to move back home, where he started working full-time, taking a few classes here and there.
That appeared to be his college sports swan song until earlier this year, when SOU defensive coordinator Stacy Collins tracked down Lee-Lauduski, now 23, and asked if he wanted to play again.
"It got my juices flowing a little bit," Lee-Lauduski said of the phone call.
He signed on, and by late May his playbook arrived in the mail and he began to study the Raiders' offense. About a month later, he arrived in Ashland and immediately started working out with senior receiver Kevin Holtzman. They practiced running routs, broke down the offense with chalk talk sessions and gained a chemistry that has transferred well to the regular season - very well, actually. Holtzman already has 20 catches for 286 yards and four touchdowns, well on pace to shatter team records in all three categories. He had 24 catches for 334 yards and four TDs at the end of last season.
"Just working with (Lee-Lauduski) right from the beginning, I knew that we had a good thing going," Holtzman said. "He's probably the best quarterback I've ever played with. He has a lot of velocity on his passes, he's very accurate and he just makes throws that other quarterbacks in the past have not been able to make. It makes being a receiver a little bit easier."
The feeling is mutual.
"We started throwing real early and just kind of got a little rhythm together," Lee-Lauduski said. "He's a good receiver and makes it a little bit easier on me to just kind of throw the ball in his area and he's going to catch it.
"Being here on a daily basis is just fun," he added. "It's not so much of a grind anymore. I'm really having a lot of fun with it."
The two will probably have to raise their game to another level entirely in order to give the Raiders a shot against Idaho State on Saturday. The Bengals aren't a NCAA Division I FCS powerhouse &
they finished 5-6 last season &
but according to the ISU website its football team is undefeated against lower-level teams.
The game marks the start of Idaho State's 2007 campaign. The Bengals are coached by first-year head man John Zamberlin, formerly of Central Washington, and will be led on the field by a freshman quarterback, Russel Hill, who will be making his first college start.
Idaho State returns six starters on offense and seven on defense. Their offense is led by senior running back Josh Barnett, who is 981 yards away from becoming the school's all-time leading rusher.
With the passing game firing on all cylinders, the Raiders believe they have a shot.
"I think at the skill positions, we're as good or better," Helminiak said. "I think our wide receivers and our quarterback are of that caliber. They're going to match up real well against these guys. I think where your problem is going to happen is probably up front on both sides of the ball. I don't think it's going to be a huge mismatch, but we've got to be ready to play."
Holtzman believes they will be.
"(ISU's) mind-set is probably going to be like 'We can just man-up against these guys,'" Holtzman said. "I'm just mentally preparing myself to be a lot more physical than I have in these past few games and to really just elevate my game."
Game notes: SOU has several connections to Idaho State. ISU offensive coordinator Mike Orthmann is a former Raider assistant, former ISU quarterback Camron Olsen is a Raider assistant this season and Collins coached the Bengals' linebackers last year. Administratively, SOU athletic director Dennis Francois is a former Idaho State professor and SOU sports information director Michelle Railsback was a media relations assistant and three-time conference champion in the pole vault at Idaho State.
Sports editor can be reached at 482-3456 x 224 or joe.
Bryan Lee-Lauduski is glad to be playing football again.