Setting the bar high is just something that comes along with the Southern Oregon University football program.
It doesn’t matter if it’s another top-five national preseason ranking, which the Raiders got earlier this week. Or being picked to win the Frontier Conference once again, which happened last week.
For second-year head coach Charlie Hall and the No. 4-nationally ranked Raiders, each new season brings new challenges and a mindset where the past can be appreciated but the present is the most important focus.
“The biggest thing is that our players don’t really focus on last year, don’t focus on the predictions of this year, the high rankings in the national polls. They’re just more worried about finding their own identity as this team of 2018,” Hall said on Wednesday. “Our seniors sent out a letter and one of the things they wanted to talk about was to define ‘What is our identity this year?’ We’re going to use fall camp to figure out what that is.”
SOU, which is coming off an appearance in the national semifinals and a 12-1 record in Hall’s debut campaign, will see newcomers reporting for camp today, with a short practice scheduled for later in the day.
Returning players, which there are plenty of, report on Friday.
Hall will conduct his first full-squad practice at Raider Stadium on Saturday morning.
That is, if the smoke from area wildfires that continues to cover the Rogue Valley actually allows the Raiders to take the field.
“A lot of it is just going to be looking and trends,” Hall said.
How much time the Raiders will get outside is still to be determined, obviously.
But if previous weeks are any kind of indication of what might be in store for Hall and Co., there very well may be no respite come the start of training camp.
“There are some gym contingencies built into all of the workouts,” Hall said. “Obviously volleyball has the priority for the time that they’ve scheduled workouts, but around that men’s soccer, women’s soccer and football have all scheduled different times. ... It’s just going to be one those things — outdoor sports are meant to be played outdoors and trying to run routes on an indoor basketball court are not conducive for great execution, but we’re left with no other options right now.”
And if they’re forced to spend a good amount of time in Lithia Motors Pavilion, the Raiders’ trademark home run-hitting aerial attack may be limited to just working on its short passing game.
“We’d be running through the gym,” Hall quipped.
Who will be directing the Southern Oregon’s offense come its Sept. 1 season opener against Eastern Oregon in La Grande is the biggest position battle that will be taking place in training camp.
The Raiders have six starters to replace — three on offense, three on defense — from last season’s squad that recorded the school’s first-ever 10-0 regular season, and none bigger than All-American quarterback Tanner Trosin, who threw for 4,516 yards and 31 touchdowns a year ago.
A trio of players — Wyatt Hutchinson (Trosin’s backup last season), Chase Knutz and Trent Banner — that took nearly all of the snaps at the Raiders’ spring game on May 4 will be part of the group vying for the job.
Hutchinson is the only one of the three that took snaps last season, as Banner redshirted as a true freshman in 2017 and Knutz played at Pima Community College in Arizona.
“I think it has to play itself out,” Hall said when asked about there being any kind of timetable for a starter being named. “When Ashland (High) went to the state championship in 2015, we had Kyle Weinberg as our main starter, but there were times where it’s like ‘Kyle, I don’t think you’re feeling it tonight, let’s put Tucker (Atteberry) in,’ and Tucker goes out and does a great job. We were able to bounce back and forth and win a lot of games. I don’t know if that’s how it’s done at the college level where it’s tougher. I know (offensive coordinator Ken Fasnacht) would rather have a guy identified as a starter.”
Whether it’s smoke or clear skies in Ashland the next three weeks, the Raiders have their eyes set firmly on the first Saturday in September.
The expectations are high, but that’s the norm these days.
And when you’ve been one of the final four teams left standing in the NAIA playoffs the season prior, you want nothing more than to get back — and then some.
“When you look at going into my second season and coming out of my second summer, you can always just look at the players that are participating — and we had great participation this summer and exceeded the number of players that were here last summer,” Hall said. “From a mental standpoint, there’s a great mental investment in what the players want to do, more players hope that they’re going to be in shape and they’re just excited about being here.”
Contact Danny Penza at 541-776-4483 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @penzatopaper.