ASHLAND, Ore. - Austin Dodge (Vancouver, Wash./Skyview) says he was unaware that the NAIA even kept statistical records until the end of his sophomore year in 2012. That was when his name started to appear in them, a byproduct of his role in bringing Southern Oregon University back to football relevance.
Now, with a week left until his senior season begins, the best quarterback in Raider history is on the verge of becoming the most prolific quarterback in NAIA history - period. If Dodge can stay on the field for the 22nd-ranked Raiders, he will be responsible for blowing up all those records he just learned about.
That probably doesn't come as a surprise within this region. He's twice been the Frontier Conference Offensive MVP, his cartoonish numbers are made into headlines on a near-weekly basis, and it's not a secret that NFL scouts have been parading through the Raider practice field since the spring.
On a national level, though, he still has some convincing to do. Whether it's because his only time on the national stage was during SOU's run to the 2012 quarterfinals, or because the numbers appear too gaudy not to be deceiving - some kind of trick the Raiders are pulling on the rest of the country, Dodge has never been an All-American. Didn't even get an honorable mention from the coaches who voted in 2013.
If he can help bring the Raiders where he intends to in 2014, that stuff should take care of itself. And if nothing else, the numbers always do.
*Note: Dodge career projections are based on assumption that 2013 stats will be duplicated in 2014.
CAREER TOTAL PASSING YARDS
NAIA record: 13,388, Chris Reisert
Dodge 2011-13: 11,643
Dodge career projection: 16,015
Austin Dodge (Vancouver, Wash./Skyview) arrived at Central Washington University as part of a three-quarterback recruiting class in 2010, making the short trek from Skyview High School in Vancouver, Wash. A few months into his stay and a redshirt season, he was looking for a new destination.
His simple explanation: "Just as a town, Ellensburg wasn't for me. I enjoyed my time there but I knew it wasn't a fit. I wanted more of a family environment."
Karl Graves, a high school teammate of his, was a freshman receiver at SOU. He talked to Dodge about transferring in February and a visit was arranged. Dodge came to Ashland on Memorial Day Weekend, first-year head coach Craig Howard sold him on winning a championship, and he committed on the spot.
"And I've never had a single regret about it," Dodge said. "I've loved every minute of my four years here."
CAREER TOUCHDOWN PASSES
NAIA record: 120, Chris Reisert
Dodge 2011-13: 102
Dodge career projection: 149
It took him five games to throw his first touchdown pass. Dodge started his freshman year at SOU as the backup QB and took over the starting job three games into the season. On his 90th attempt as a Raider, Oct. 11, 2011 at Menlo, he found Mike Olson in the end zone from 20 yards out.
With two exceptions, he hasn't gone a game without throwing at least two touchdown passes since.
CAREER TOTAL COMPLETIONS
NAIA record: 1,149, Chris Reisert
Dodge 2011-13: 875
Dodge career projection: 1,217
Things got crazy in a hurry.
SOU had lost 47 of 66 games in the seven years prior to the arrivals of Howard and Dodge. Raider football had gone stale, and only narrowly avoided extinction.
Then stat lines like this started to pop up: With three games left in the 2011 season, Dodge lifted the Raiders to a 31-28 victory over Simon Fraser with a career-high 33 completions on a career-high 56 attempts for a career-high 314 yards, his 22-yard TD pass with just over a minute left proving to be the game-winner. None of those would be career-highs for very long.
"We ran over 100 plays on offense that game, and that's when we knew we really had something going into 2012," he said. "Did we think we'd start putting up over 600 yards a game on offense? Probably not, because that's almost laughable. But we knew we had something."
CAREER YARD GAINED PER GAME
NAIA record: 350.18, Jeff Loots
Dodge 2011-13: 369.9
Dodge career projection: 378.2
The Frontier Conference couldn't have seen what was coming when the Raiders joined in 2012. Carroll College was virtually untouchable, winners of 13 consecutive conference championships. A newcomer that hadn't won more than five games in 10 years wasn't the likely choice to change that.
But after starting the season 2-2, Dodge and the Raiders got everyone's attention. Their method of standing out: producing 68, 65 and 76 points in three wins leading up to their matchup with Carroll in Ashland. When the Saints came to town, SOU put them in a 35-19 hole by halftime. The Raiders hung on for a 51-48 win, and Dodge finished 27-for-38 with 526 passing yards.
They'd go on to win seven straight games, not losing until a 47-44 quarterfinal heartbreaker at Morningside, shared the Frontier title with Montana Tech, and set a college football record for all levels with 642 yards of offense per game.
CAREER YARDS GAINED PER PLAY (total offense)
NAIA record: 7.78, Jed Drenning
Dodge 2011-13: 7.88
Dodge career projection: 7.87
Despite losing his top six receivers from that breakout season, Dodge hardly slowed down in 2013. But the Raiders did, dropping their first three games. (That third loss, however, was at Sacramento State, which needed a last-second score to force overtime.)
"I think we may have been a little complacent coming into the season, and it took us a while to find a rhythm as a team," Dodge said. "We didn't handle adversity as well though. That probably cost us some of those close games."
CAREER TOTAL TOUCHDOWNS RESPONSIBLE FOR
NAIA record: 143, Marc Weekly
Dodge 2011-13: 104
Dodge career projection: 151
When the Raider offense found that rhythm, it was as potent as ever. Beginning with a Sept. 28 game at Dickinson State, Dodge threw for over 400 yards in six straight contests, and in one six-game stretch tossed 37 touchdown passes.
The most astonishing exhibition of all, and of Dodge's career to this point, was a 59-32 drubbing of Montana Tech at on Oct. 5 against Raider Stadium. He completed 40 of 58 attempts for 573 yards and eight touchdowns passes without an interception. Three different receivers had over 140 yards to their credit.
"As a quarterback, no matter what level you're at, you always dream of those games, but in this offense it's always possible because there are so many playmakers around me," Dodge said. "It's just as exciting to play in it as I think it is to watch."
He's thrown for over 400 yards 13 times. The college football record is 21.
CAREER PASSING ATTEMPTS
NAIA record: 1,710, Chris Reisert
Dodge 2011-13: 1,373
Dodge career projection: 1,893
Dodge has let it fly 1,373 times in three seasons and just 32 of those attempts resulted in interceptions. That's 2.3 percent of his passes going the other way. But on Nov. 9 of last year against Eastern Oregon, in the penultimate game of the season, he threw three of them for the first time since 2011 in a 38-37 loss that dropped the Raiders from the rankings and foiled their plans to advance to the NAIA tournament.
Though the Raiders likely would have won if not for a fumble five yards from the end zone inside the last minute, Dodge remembers the effects of the loss more than the celebration of his 100th career TD pass earlier in the game.
The Raiders led within the last two minutes in all but one of their losses in 2013.
"Honestly, hitting that low was tough to swallow but probably one of the better things that could have happened to us," he said. "We had to look at ourselves in the mirror, especially myself. I had to take more responsibility than I had in the past, and we knew the offseason needed to be the most brutal one we'd ever put ourselves through."
CAREER TOTAL YARDS GAINED
NAIA record: 13,979, Tyler Emmert
Dodge 2011-13: 11,838
Dodge career projection: 16,264
Now, with 10 of 11 starters back on offense, every receiver included, the Raiders know this is their best chance at reaching the ultimate goal of winning a national championship. And Dodge knows now that achieving that goes beyond the numbers.
"I feel like I've been a leader in the past, but I led by example. There are a lot of qualities I have as a person that weren't coming out before and I wasn't exemplifying," he said. "By not doing that, I think I let my teammates down.
"We're at least two-deep at every position now, so there are no excuses. The individual records are pretty cool, but it's all about whether or not we can all get a ring."