Shouldering the load

Only seven months after undergoing surgery to repair a torn labrum, Jared Elarmo was making crunching tackles in practice again, sore shoulder and all. But then, after losing his father at age 12, Elarmo, one of Southern Oregon's most dynamic defensive play-makers, knows a little something about overcoming obstacles.

And overcome them, he has. After an offseason spent sweating through intense rehabilitation, SOU's starting strong safety is having another outstanding season as a senior. He's one of the team leaders in nearly every major statistical category and has forced two key turnovers, including an interception return for a touchdown in the Raiders' quadruple overtime win over Eastern Oregon.

Elarmo will lead the Raider defense Saturday, when SOU (1-2) travels to Salem to take on Willamette (1-2) and its deceptive, run-oriented fly offense. Kickoff is scheduled for 6 p.m. at McCulloch Stadium.

Elarmo's quick return to form didn't come easy. His injured shoulder was in a sling for four months, which left very little time for the 6-foot-2, 215-pound speed-burner to work it back into game shape.

"After that, it was just pushing it, trying to do everything I could," said Elarmo, who transferred to SOU from Sacramento State two years ago. "Then finally, it just clicked, and all of a sudden my shoulder had full movement and I felt really good."

Now, Elarmo is one of three team leaders in tackles (24), has 2 1/2 tackles for a loss, a sack, the aforementioned 43-yard interception return and a forced fumble. Not bad for a guy who still feels the affects of surgery every time he lowers his shoulder.

"I don't think about it at all," he said. "You just gotta play through it. Of course there's going to be pain, but you just do what you have to do."

Elarmo learned how to deal with pain of a different kind a long time ago. But, in a pact with his mother, Elarmo refused to let his father's death destroy his life. As a reminder of that pact, he had the serenity prayer tattooed on his left arm by teammate Shane Van Zant, a tattoo artist.

It reads: "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference."

"I can't change my dad's death," Elarmo said, "so I shouldn't dwell on it."

Elarmo and the Raiders enter Saturday's game fresh off a bye week that followed their 37-11 loss to NCAA Division I-FCS foe Idaho State. Willamette, an NCAA Division III program, should provide a more level playing field.

The Bearcats are coming off a 14-7 victory over California Lutheran in which they rushed for 258 yards on 60 carries. Quarterback Ryan Whitcomb and running back C.J. Washington did most of the damage on the ground for Willamette, with Whitcomb gaining 108 yards on 11 carries and Washington picking up 92 yards on 18 carries. Willamett's other quarterback, Grant Leslie, completed 8 of 17 passes for 74 yards.

The Bearcats lean heavily on the run. They're averaging 153.7 rushing yards per game and just 108.3 passing. SOU head coach Steve Helminiak said the Willamette offense provides a unique challenge.

"We've got to be pretty disciplined on defense this week reading keys and being fundamentally sound," he said.

The Raiders' offense excelled before running into Idaho State, but has been mostly one-dimensional. Quarterback Bryan Lee-Lauduski has thrown for 856 yards and eight touchdowns, but SOU's running game has been held to a grand total of just 70 yards.

Facing Willamette's defense will likely be a relief compared to what SOU saw against Idaho State, however, and Helminiak hopes that seeing Division I football first-hand can help the Raiders raise their game.

"When you play against a Division I team that obviously should be better than us, should be faster than us, should be bigger and stronger, the game's going to be a little faster," he said. "So, you step down to a Division III team, you'd like to think that the game is going to slow down a little bit for our guys."

Sports editor can be reached at 482-3456 x 224 or joe.

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