By Jordan Burton (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Brandon Pitts takes over at Aurora and it’ll be a fresh start with just five starters and eight lettermen back from last year’s 7-3 Big 8 East championship team.
Pitts brings a wealth of experience after a three-year stint at West Plains as the defensive coordinator. He’s also had stops at Kickapoo, Warrenton and Willow Springs.
He’s no stranger to winning football and believes the best way to start that process is learning how to win in life off the gridiron.
“The first thing I’ve tried to establish is equity with my athletes,” said Pitts. “They need to know that I am here for them and will go the extra mile to make sure they are successful. And in turn, they do the same for me. So far it has been really good.”
While there isn’t much experience returning, there is certainly some size and quality in those returners.
The Dawgs should be seen in the trenches.
Senior Ethan Hussman (6-4, 260) is back after an All-Big 8 junior season on both sides of the ball. He’ll be joined on the offensive line by classmate Alex Dewitt (6-2, 255) and juniors Michael Barrientos (6-1, 255) and Ethan Whitlock (6-2, 240).
“Ethan is a big, physical, and lead by example type of guy,” said Pitts. “He is arguably the best player on our team, we will lean on Ethan heavily this year.”
Junior tight ends Justus Nickell (6-2, 230) and Jose Ibarra (6-0, 190) will add more size and physicality.
Senior Jack Cline was an All-Conference lineman as a junior but will become one of the Ozarks’ biggest backs at 6-foot, 235lbs.
Seniors Deonte Floyd (6-4, 180) and Alex Rios will bring speed to the receiving corps and secondary. Juniors Jax Prater and Evan Hartwigsen will look for roles in the backfield and secondary.
Pitts believes all of those guys are more than ready to step into marquee roles and perform.
Senior Kelton Brown (6-3, 180) will step in at quarterback as a first-time varsity football player.
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“Kelton is a stud baseball and softball player who is playing football for the first time in high school,” said Pitts. “He is an instant impact guy for us and will allow us to be multiple on offense.”
The offense will look a little different than it has in previous seasons.
“We aren’t running flexbone this year, so we will be a little bit more balanced,” said Pitts. “With that being said, we still plan on using our veteran line to move the ball on the ground.”
Junior Keaton Smith (6-0, 290) and sophomore Clayton Cline (6-1, 260) will both push for playing time on both sides of the line. Sophomore Matthew Cutbirth will do the same.
Senior Josh Blackburn (6-1, 270) is a first-year player who can make an impact with his strength and football IQ. Sophomore Clayton Jaramillo will look for reps at receiver and defensive back with the ability to make home-run plays.
The defensive side will also look different on the field.
“I plan on us being more multiple than they have in years past,” said Pitts. “That part has been tough, learning new scheme and rules but we have the guys and they’re very physical.”
Pitts is familiar with football in the Ozarks and while he’s never coached in the Big 8, he’s coached against it and knows just how brutal the league can be.
Coming from winning programs and places, the expectation of competing won’t change for Pitts.
“The Big 8 is one of the best coached conferences in the state,” said Pitts. “Having been at West Plains the last three years, we have prepared for various teams and they’re always a headache to get ready for. I think our side will be tough to win in 2022. A lot of teams with tons of returning starters.”
“It will take us being healthy and getting a break here and there. We have talent but a lot of inexperience at the skill position. I believe that we have the team to achieve those goals, but some external factors will definitely have to go our way.”
Aurora will host Seneca on Aug. 26 to open the 2022 season.