ASHLAND, Ore. — While the Power 5 conferences are now back in action, the SOU Raiders are still waiting to play football. As of right now, the Raiders are set to begin their year on February 27th.
Before then, let’s get familiar with the Raiders team in anticipation of a spring 2021 season. This week: receivers.
And before getting to who is in line to be big contributors, it's important to know who isn't coming back.
The biggest name is one of the biggest and best receivers the raiders have had in recent years: Jordan Suell. Suell led the team in receiving yards and touchdowns last year by a pretty substantial margin. Almost 200 more receiving yards than the next player and his 12 touchdowns accounted for over half the team's receiving touchdowns. It will be hard to replace the 6-foot-6 wideout who ended his career fourth all-time in the Raiders receiving touchdowns.
But Suell isn't the only receiver the raiders will be missing. Parker Randle and Jason Shelley were both key contributors on the offense. Both had over 300 yards receiving last year. Khalil Hudson racked up over 200 yards last season as well. None of those guys coming back to the receiving corps. Experience is going to be low for the raiders this season.
"This is the youngest group we probably had in years that played together,” Matt Boudreaux said. “We only have like, maybe like one outside receiver or inside receiver who actually played in big games last year or the year before last. And we just have to really learn, like, this is us."
Suell, Randle, and Shelley make up the vast majority of the production from the graduated receivers. And even more surprising... one person makes up over half of the returners receiving yards.
Who is that mystery man who led the Raiders in receptions and finished second behind Jordan Suell in receiving yards? It's redshirt junior Christian Graney. A consistent producer for the raiders last year who they'll look to lead the young receiver group.
Among players listed as receivers, Graney is the only returner with more than 7 receptions. And last season he had 59, 17 more than Jordan Suell. On average he was picking up about 60 yards a game for the raiders and was a reliable target for the inconsistent quarterback situation last season.
A lot of pressure will be put on the 5-foot-11 junior to lead the inexperienced receiver corps. But Graney is taking the experiences from his freshman year to better teach the young group.
"Basically all I’m trying to do is boost their confidence up because I know when I was a freshman I didn't come in with a lot of confidence,” Christian Graney said. “I was making mistakes; I was dropping balls. For me, I want to be that guy to go ahead and step up and be there for them and let them know that, 'hey it's alright if you mess up. This is all a learning experience so we're gonna go ahead and get better as a team, as a corps and, you know, we're gonna be dangerous.”
Graney easily has the most experience, but there are a few players that have some game-time experience. Notably, two track stars looking to add some speed on wings.
Bryce Goggin and Shane McLaughlin.
Goggin has limited game experience, playing in only 3 last years and making two catches. Goggin also runs hurdles for the raiders in the spring, a great skill for a receiver. Mclaughlin is a sprinter for the SOU track team.
Raiders will get help in other forms too. Former Ashland high school receiver Shashi Penn is back in the Rogue Valley. A Goldenwest College transfer looks to add a little experience to the group.
Jaden Cummings served as a back-up last season. A junior this season, he played in 7 games last year with five catches for 68 yards and a touchdown.
Ben Graziani, a redshirt sophomore, looks to contribute this year. His father, Tony Graziani, played quarterback for the Oregon Ducks in the 90s and was drafted in the seventh round of the 19-97 n-f-l draft by the Atlanta Falcons.
Tahir Mills is a junior transfer who features size and speed. And then there's redshirt freshman Sawyer Cleveland who's a converted high school quarterback. According to Raiders head coach Charlie Hall, Cleveland has the potential to be a Jordan Suell-type receiver.
This receiver group will need some polishing, but luckily, they get a little bonus time before they play their first game. And helping them along the way will be third-year starting quarterback Wyatt Hutchinson.
He battled injuries last year, but in his final year with the Raiders, he could help accelerate the learning process for the young group of wideouts.
"[Hutchinson] knows how it goes. He knows what needs to be done, which is nice that I’m glad that we still have Wyatt around,” Matt Boudreaux said. “And we have a few more seniors that were just like that, like been here since ‘17, ‘16 that knows like, this is how it needs to be done. And this is how it will be done."