SOU aims to have fun, stay healthy in spring game

When it comes to tonight's Red/Black Spring Game, Southern Oregon University football coach Craig Howard is keeping his bullet-list of goals uncharacteristically boring.

He wants the Raiders to have fun. And he doesn't want anybody else hurt.

"Spring football is fine and dandy," he said, "but sometimes all you do is beat each other up."

The Red/Black Game is scheduled to kick off — yes, there will be a kickoff, though returners will be only be "tagged" down — at 6 p.m. at Raider Stadium.

Though injuries, particularly to the offensive line and receiving corps, have left the Raiders shorthanded, they are slated to play four 12-minute quarters with a running clock. Referees will be on hand as well. There aren't enough players to split the squad into first- and second-team units, so instead of a true red team vs. black team format SOU will pit a mix-matched offense against a mix-matched defense, with the defense earning points for turnovers (seven points) and three-and-outs (four points).

Howard said SOU is down to six offensive lineman and six receivers after an injury-riddled spring that claimed starting center Ronald Rylance (broken foot) and fellow lineman Kolby Kolberstein (knee). Also on offense, tight end Clay Sierra is still nursing a broken arm suffered during the last game of the season, and freshman receiver Matt Retzlaff (hamstring) is questionable.

"Going against yourself every day, it's more physical than in the fall as far as practices go because we're trying to work on fundamentals and technique and you have to go full speed in order to do that," Howard said.

Starters and backups will rotate, but Howard is looking for a 50-50 split at every position. That means that quarterback Austin Dodge, who passed for 5,000 yards and 42 touchdowns in leading SOU to the NAIA national quarterfinals last season, will share time with backup quarterback Chris Kammel.

"I want it to be fun, that's the most important thing," Howard said. "We want to finish spring football with some competition and every kid will get to play. There'll be officials, fans. I want them to have a fun time and …look like a football team, look like we know what we're doing."

While some players have essentially locked up starting roles with their 2012 regular-season play, plenty of positions will be up for grabs when fall camp opens in three months. That makes tonight's game a final chance for players on the bubble to make an impression.

One position Howard will be paying extra close attention to is receiver. The Raiders boasted the top receiving corps in the nation last year, but will have to replenish quickly as the top four sets of hands from 2012, including the NAIA's top two in terms of receiving yards (Cole McKenzie and Patrick Donahue), have exhausted their eligibility.

Receivers Matt and Ryan Retzlaff, Sean McShane, Teran Togia and Jeremy Scottow all will be looking to finish spring with a bang tonight.

"At receiver, there's been a battle all spring," Howard said, "so hopefully some guys will step up and show that they're primetime ready. You evaluate everything, including how they play with the lights on.

"There's going to be some new heroes and new stars and I can't wait to watch them."

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