By Justin Sampson (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
The debut of Aurora in the Big 8 East conference came with challenges. Six opponents put up at least seven wins, while three were district champions.
That, mixed with injuries, sent Aurora to a 2-8 record, despite holding Mount Vernon to only 12 points in the district opener.
Now, in the third year under Craig Weldy, the program is again dealing with depth and size questions. Still, Weldy hopes the trial by fire the underclassmen received will pay dividends.
“When you have 37 kids in grades 9-12, you get a couple of key injuries and you don’t have anyone to replace them,” he said. “We replaced them with freshmen. They handled themselves well, but that’s just the difference in the maturity and speed of the game. We’ll be in that same position this year.”
The Houn’ Dawgs bring five seniors and six starters to the table in 2019. Their lone returning All-Conference honoree is senior Clayton Cordova, who clocks in at 6’5” and just over 250 pounds. He will be the anchor of the offensive and defensive lines.
He will be joined by seniors Connor Shaw and Sean Jackson, both of whom missed their junior years. Jacob White, another senior, and juniors Dalton Cline and Dwight Jung also expect to claim spots in the trenches.
Cline spent a portion of the offseason working as a tight end, but made the transition to the line out of necessity.
Jay Lee returns to the quarterback position after impressing his coaches with his progression as a leader. He completed 98 of 203 passes for 1,210 yards and six touchdowns as a junior. He found the end zone seven more times on the ground. His understanding of the offense will be a big tipping point between 2018 and this year.
“We got to spend some time this winter reading coverages and checking off where his decision-making could be quicker,” said Weldy.
The run game will feature youth, but a skillset that has the coaches feeling eager. Kole Rohlman and Ian Jackson both earned starts as freshmen and will be the primary ball carriers after the graduation of All-Big 8 East selection Casey Weathermon.
Junior Brody Sims should also be a key contributor to the run game.
“Jackson is a big-boned, hard-nosed kid that runs without fear. Roleman is a speedster. He had a 4.70 40-yard dash as a freshman. Those guys, along with Brody Sims, have more maturity on them as opposed to finesse.”
Cline and Jackson will patrol the linebacking corps on defense, while Rohlman and Sims will team up in the secondary as well.
As Weldy describes his depth chart as one deep across the board, he has no plans on complicating the system. That, and health, will be what stands between Aurora and a successful campaign.
“Each season has its unique challenges. We will have young men playing in positions other than what they normally would play. We will keep our offense and defense as simple as possible so that our players can play with confidence. This will allow them to use quickness and speed to overcome our size disadvantage.”