Raiders excited to get 2009 started

Football season kicks off at Raider Stadium Saturday when Southern Oregon University will host the first of its three home contests.

The Raiders will bump helmets with fellow NAIA foe Eastern Oregon at 1 p.m. Saturday at Raider Stadium as they begin a nine-game schedule that will conclude with five straight away games.

Southern Oregon is looking to rebound from a 3-7 showing in 2008, in which it won the opener at Montana Tech, 30-25, to knock off the 21st-ranked team in the nation, according to the preseason NAIA poll.

"One good thing about a new season is everyone starts at 0-0," Helminiak said. "Right now I have to say I'm cautiously optimistic. Last year we had a lot of talent, but had trouble getting the W's. This year we have talent and I believe so far we are a much more cohesive group."

Nine Raiders landed on the preseason NAIA All-Independent team, including three members of their seasoned offensive line and leading returning receiver Vance Beach. Beach, a 5-10 junior, had 32 receptions for 288 yards last year.

Defensive lineman Will Watson, linebacker Kevin Harrell and defensive back Akeem Jackson also landed on the preseason team.

The Mountaineers posted a 5-6 record last year, up from 1-10 in 2007, and will begin their Frontier Conference schedule following this weekend's game.

Second-year head coach Tim Camp's Mountaineers are led by sophomore quarterback Chris Ware, who led his team both on the ground (433 yards) and in the air (2,357 yards) in 2008 to total 253.6 yards per game.

"He is definitely the guy we have to look out for," SOU head coach Steve Helminiak said. "He's a very good athlete and a great competitor."

Senior Jordyn Jackson rushed for 4.0 yards per carry and two touchdowns last season, while junior Kirk Miller caught nine touchdowns and averaged 80 receiving yards per contest.

"Jackson is also a good athlete and he may present a problem for us," Helminiak said.

Defensively, juniors Seath Kimball and Kyle Witty combined for 13 sacks in 11 games, and senior linebacker Corey Dunn had a team-high 100 total tackles.

Southern Oregon leads the all-time series against Eastern 42-14-3, but the Mounties have won four of the last five, including a 27-10 decision in La Grande last November.

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