Southern Oregon University quarterbacks Chase Knutz (5) and Wyatt Hutchinson (2) throw passes side-by-side during spring practice at Raider Stadium Monday morning.

Raider quarterbacks take their shot

ASHLAND — The race to be the next man up under center for the Southern Oregon University football team has officially begun.

And it’s safe to say the Raiders don’t lack options.

If there were any more candidates, SOU head coach Charlie Hall and veteran offensive coordinator Ken Fasnacht may very well need a second hand to start counting them. With spring practice entering its second week, the Raiders have four signal-callers — redshirt sophomore Wyatt Hutchinson and redshirt freshmen Chase Knutz, Trent Banner and Jaylen Tregle — aiming to replace the All-American Tanner Trosin, who threw for more than 4,500 yards as a senior last fall.

Throw in a fifth option, former South Medford quarterback Craig Contreras, who’s currently out injured, and there’s options aplenty.

“They’re facing a little bit of pressure to live up to the expectations,” Fasnacht said after practice on Monday. “I don’t think the competition pressure is really affecting them yet. I think the fact that Austin Dodge’s picture is on Ashland Boulevard and on the side of the stadium and the last guy was an All-American ... the quarterback history here the last seven years makes it where they know they have to perform.”

As the old saying goes, if three’s considered a crowd, then what about four ... or even five?

“Right now, there’s probably nothing but pressure on them all — which is something, in part, that you want to see,” Fasnacht said. “If they’re feeling the pressure, feeling the heat of trying to get to being the guy who’s getting the most reps, they’re probably not handling it the way you want to. But it’s also been just three days. The pressure of competing is probably eating them up a little bit, but that’s what you need.”

The goal for both Hall and Fasnacht is to see somebody truly separate themselves from the group by the time SOU’s annual spring game rolls around on May 4.

As of now, Hutchinson and Knutz “have a better grasp of things,” according to Fasnacht.

“Chase, he’s got a big arm and he’s got great mechanics and a great frame to be the pure thrower like an Austin Dodge,” Fasnacht said. “Wyatt is kind of similar to Tanner last year — more of an athletic type and the arm’s not big and strong, but he can move in the pocket. Trent is more like Chase, Jaylen is more like Chase, which is our preference. We want to throw to the perimeter and keep our quarterback (from getting hit).”

As much experience as Dodge and Trosin had under their belts, that’s not the case in this group.

Only Hutchinson — who appeared in four games last season as he served as Trosin’s backup — has taken snaps under center at SOU.

Knutz, who began his college career at Portland State, transferred in this spring after spending a season at Pima Community College in Tuscon, Arizona. Banner and Tregle are both Northern California natives and were each part of Hall’s first SOU recruiting class last spring.

Think about this for a second, though: Dodge — SOU’s career passing leader — and Trosin have combined for five of the highest single-season passing yardage totals in school history.

The bar is extremely high for whomever is named the Raiders’ next starting quarterback.

That’s something the QB room is well aware of.

It’s also something that is helping push the competition.

“The quarterback room is phenomenal in terms of those guys working together and trying to help somebody out,” Fasnacht said. “We won’t have it any other way, but I’m sure in the back of their minds they’re saying, ‘Gosh, miss a throw every once in a while.’ They’re all inexperienced where they need to lean on each other right now.”

Fasnacht will know when the time comes that his new starting QB has established himself.

“We want to see touchdowns and vertical balls flying all over the place and being completed,” Fasnacht said. “They’re not doing that yet, but that’s probably going to be when you can tell that somebody has grasped it. Once that happens, that’s usually what it takes, but none of them are there yet.”

The only thing that may end up outnumbering the amount of quarterbacks competing for the job is the confidence that Fasnacht has in the group.

“I absolutely feel like, if one of the top four guys embraces the system, that we have another All-American quarterback in that group. We just don’t know which one it is yet,” Fasnacht said. “Seven years ago when I took the job here, we had nine quarterbacks and then we went and signed one because we didn’t think any of those could play. Now, I feel like there’s a guy who can take us deep into the playoffs and compete for a national championship and earn All-American honors if he understands the system because we’re going to throw it more than anybody else. That guy is going to be in the spotlight and it’s just a matter of which one rises to the top.”

Contact Danny Penza at 541-776-4483 or Follow him on Twitter at @penzatopaper.

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