The Aurora Houn’ Dawgs will be back on the gridiron for another year under head coach Craig Weldy, looking to improve on last year’s 2-8 overall record and fifth place finish in the new Big 8 East (1-5).

Like last season, Weldy and crew will have to overcome low turnout and try to avoid injuries, as just eight lettermen -- including five starters -- will return to the field. Aurora will also have to replace two of its biggest contributors on both sides of the ball, as both Kaden Clark and Isaac Martinez have moved on to Division II college ball at Evangel University.

One key returner to the Houn’ Dawg lineup will be Jay Lee, a senior set to lead the team at the quarterback position in Weldy’s flexbone offense.

“Jay is without a doubt one tough young man, which is a requirement for a flexbone quarterback,” Weldy said. “He’s a tough runner to bring down and a consistent passer when given time to throw the ball.”

Last year’s Aurora offense averaged 14.7 points per game, not quite enough when the defense is allowing 28.1 points per game, and Weldy hopes that the leadership of Lee, Connor Shaw, Clayton Cordova and Sean Jackson will help improve that number this season.

Shaw addressed the turnout issue for the Houn’ Dawgs in his preseason remarks, stating, “It’s been like that for the past couple of years now. But I would rather have the 34 guys who are here that I can count on than 60 that I can’t.”

“The team has a great attitude and I wouldn’t want to play with anyone else,” he added.

Shaw is back from a season-ending injury last year and is expected to anchor the offense at the center position. Weldy expects Cordova -- the 6’5”, 265 lb. OG/DT -- to become “a dominating force on the line of scrimmage” for the Houn’ Dawgs, and praised Jackson’s determination leading up to his senior year.

Others returning to the lineup for the Dawgs will be juniors Brody Sims, Dalton Cline and Dwight Jung, along with sophomores Kohl Rohlman and Ian Jackson. Newcomers to the varsity lineup will be senior Jacob White, juniors Noah Lamb and Cameron Savage, and sophomores Felix Barrientos-Perez and Brendan Hall.

With the new talent and the returning leadership, Coach Weldy is looking forward to another competitive year in the Big 8 East.

“Football in the Big 8 is very competitive year in and year out. This year will be no different,” he said. “Every Friday night will be a test to see who has prepared the best and who has the greatest desire to win.”

Weldy hopes his team will be prepared with simple offenses and defenses that allow the athletes to play with confidence, to compensate for the size disadvantage they are likely to face with speed and agility. If his plans are successful, the Dawgs could very well compete each week against any opponent.

“I just can’t say that any one game is more important than another, they are all going to be great challenges,” said the coach. “We will have to take each week’s opponent as if they are our greatest rival!”

The Houn’ Dawgs are scheduled to travel to Branson for this year’s jamboree on August 23, taking on the Pirates along with Reeds Spring and Lebanon. The team will then kick off the regular season at Cassville on August 30, before coming home against East Newton the first week of September.