When he was hired in February, Southern Oregon football coach Craig Howard emphasized recruiting young and recruiting local.

When he was hired in February, Southern Oregon football coach Craig Howard emphasized recruiting young and recruiting local.

Only two months into his new gig, he's managed to do a little of both.

The Raiders announced Wednesday that 34 football players, including 27 high schoolers and 13 native Oregonians, have committed to join SOU for the 2011 season. With more signees expected, the Raiders have so far added 20 offensive players, 12 defensive and two special teamers.

For his first recruiting class at SOU Howard focused on the skill positions, adding eight wide receivers and six running backs. He hopes to bolster his linemen corps this weekend, when the school will host its third and final group visit from another 22 players still deciding which college to play for.

"We're kind of scraping it together, but Southern Oregon is an easy sell," Howard said. "I thought when I came here that we'd be so late, but our assistant coaches just did a fantastic job. The quality of athletes still available has just amazed me. It's kind of like hunting for Easter eggs."

Junior college transfers Michael Olson (American River JC) and Justin Otaguro (Diablo Valley JC) and high school seniors Karl Graves (Skyview High, Wash.) and Greg Heath (Central Catholic) highlight a receiving class that should see plenty of opportunities in Howard's spread option no-huddle offense.

Olson led American River last season with 39 catches for 372 yards and four touchdowns. Otaguro was Diablo Valley's third-leading receiver with 26 catches for 351 yards. Graves was a three-time all-conference selection, finishing with 412 receiving yards and four TDs despite missing most of his senior season with an injury, and Heath caught 43 passes for 799 yards and 10 touchdowns as a senior.

The Raiders also netted dual-threat Ricky Fuentes out of Turlock High School (Calif.). As a senior, Fuentes rushed for 1,147 yards and seven touchdowns, and also had 390 yards and eight touchdowns receiving.

Howard is very high on the incoming linebackers, a group that includes a transfer from Portland State (Lucas Corder) and an all-region all-star out of Camas, Wash. (Ikaika Gunderson).

A former Roseburg High standout, Corder redshirted for the Vikings last season after earning the Southwest Conference defensive player of the year award while playing for the Indians. Gunderson has an equally impressive resume, signing with SOU after earning all-region and all-conference honors at Camas.

Fellow linebackers Folau Peaua and Austin Schmidt (Leilehua High, Hawaii) also have the potential to make an immediate impact at SOU, according to Howard.

"It's like Christmas, you can't find out what you've got for sure until you have them on campus," Howard said, "but I'm really pleased with the linebackers, who should compete early. But ideally, you'd like to redshirt all those freshmen — trade their worst year for their best year."

The Raiders also inked a pair of quarterbacks, including former South Medford starter AJ Palazzolo, who spent last year at Shasta Junior College after attending both Cal Lutheran and Pacific Lutheran. The other QB added to the Raiders' mix is Zach Newberry out of San Lorenzo Valley High in Felton, Calif. Newberry was the Santa Cruz Coast Athletic League Offensive Player of the Year, passing for more than 1,700 yards as a senior.

Howard says that the emphasis on high school recruits will pay big dividends down the road.

"I really believe in building a program with four-year kids, so I wanted to recruit southern Oregon kids and I wanted to have them for four years instead of two," Howard said. "There's a greater bond, greater loyalty, and you also learn the system better. You learn it as a freshman and you just get better every year.

"I like to get as many four-year guys as I can and let them develop."

Also committing to SOU were Roseburg punter Mitch Huff, North Medford long snapper Cory Pine and Shasta Junior College running back Manny Barragan, who rushed for 627 yards and four touchdowns last fall for the Knights.