Sometimes from small ideas come big things.
When Craig Howard was debating whether to take on the challenge of guiding the Southern Oregon University football program in 2011, he did what anyone might do in this age of technology.
"I just typed in Southern Oregon football," Howard said of an internet search from his Florida home. "The only thing I really saw was a thing about their bus on one of their trips that caught fire. It really didn't talk much about Southern Oregon University or Southern Oregon football."
He made it through that first season just fine, but couldn't shake the desire to shed more light on the Raiders program if possible. Then came his directive prior to the 2012 campaign that seemed innocent but wound up taking on a whole life of its own.
"I just talked to our young coaches and some of our older players and said, 'Get a camera and start filming stuff,'" said Howard. "My intention was just to get more stuff on the internet and more stuff recruits could see to spread the word about Southern Oregon University and Southern Oregon football, something that told our story and let people know who we are and what we're about."
What transpired after that could not have been predicted, even by the ever-optimistic Howard.
With student assistant football coach Matt Adkins taking the lead, a series of promotional videos were borne through a breakthrough 2012 season by the Raiders. That ultimately led to a full-length documentary titled "Team of Firsts" that's available on YouTube.
"It turned into a storybook season last year and they just happened to have a camera crew filming it all," said Howard, whose team earned the Frontier Conference championship, advanced to the NAIA national quarterfinals and finished ranked No. 5 in the final NAIA poll.
Southern Oregon submitted one of the video trailers to a contest sponsored by FootballScoop.com and, as a result, learned Tuesday that it had been named Video of the Year for the non-FBS division.
"I'm so tickled for Matt and all of them," Howard said of those involved in the project. "He didn't have any money to do that, just some guys with a video camera and some creative minds. They put together music and all those things you have to do in a production like that with the editing and telling a story without really any budget. You really have to know what you're doing and they did a fantastic job, I'm just so proud of them."
Adkins served as director for the project, which followed the SOU football team from the opening of practice through a dramatic postseason run. The documentary was produced by a company called "Dose of Dopeness" that included Adkins and current SOU players Chris Kammel of Phoenix and Colin Amsler, Zach Urrutia, Mike Bibbee, Grant Torgerson, Zac Ward and Nick Kurland.
The group was given full access and wound up telling a compelling story on what life is like in a small-college atmosphere. In an honest, straightforward and informative way, the group was able to capture the bond that can be created as a member of a football team as well as the life lessons that can be learned through victory and defeat through a series of interviews and season highlights.
Howard said there was no direction given from his office to the crew, other than one basic ideal.
"I always wanted it to be positive, upbeat and clean and portray the story of Southern Oregon football," he said. "What they were attempting to show in this film was so many of our guys weren't recruited by big-time schools but still found joy at playing football at our level, which is maybe the purest level of football there is, and that the emotions of a big loss or big win or big game are just as magnified and important as they'd be at the big-time football level."
The full-length documentary is 1 hour, 48 minutes but there are a handful of shorter video trailers for the "Team of Firsts" project also available on YouTube. The film premiered at the Ashland Street Cinemas in February and drew a tremendous response.
"People were really moved by it," said Howard. "People were crying by the end of it because it was such a good movie with such a great message. We didn't realize it was going to go on and be a nationally recognized video."
SOU's submission to FootballScoop.com was selected as one of six finalists in its category, and subsequently evaluated by a panel that consisted of Sports Illustrated senior writer Andy Staples, Bleacher Report lead college football writer Adam Kramer, Smart Football editor and author Chris Brown and SB Nation managing editor Brian Floyd.
Howard said he's proud of the project as a whole, but his favorite moment likely involves the special moment shared in the locker room by seniors Cole McKenzie and Patrick Donahue after his team's season-ending 47-44 overtime loss to Morningside.
"They had full access to everything we did and the cameras were right there in the locker room after we lost that game and guys who were seniors and knew they wouldn't play again were there and didn't want to take their uniforms off," said the coach. "They're crying together over their bond, and there's Pat Donahue and Cole McKenzie both consoling one another, one's the No. 1 receiver in the nation and the other's No. 2, and they had bought into everything we were about. When you see them hugging each other and consoling each other, it kinda makes you cry, too."
While the documentary provides a great time capsule of memories for SOU's breakthrough season, Howard hopes it also will help promote the idea of coming to Ashland for future Raiders.
"I think it sells the program and what we're trying to accomplish and our core values that we try to teach of character, strength and honor," he said. "When you go to recruit and go on the road and go to a high school that hasn't seen us play, as coaches we can get a laptop out and break that out and show that video and give them a flavor of what Southern Oregon football is all about."
Adkins was in Sweden on vacation and unable to respond to interview requests, but Howard said he has no desire to stop chronicling his team's seasons anytime soon.
"We want to keep it going in the future," he said. "I don't know if we'll have a guy as talented as Matt Adkins, and our budget's still zero, but we still want to do things in a big-time way here at Southern Oregon."
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry
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Sometimes from small ideas come big things.