NORTON — When Collyn Auker came into the prep ranks at Norton Community High School, he had every intention of being a tight end for the Bluejays.

That changed his sophomore year when Auker got a bit bigger in the weight room and Bluejay head coach Lucas Melvin decided to give him a shot on the line.

It turned out to be a good move.

Auker once again will anchor Norton’s front on both sides of the ball, and looks to be one of the better lineman Class 3A has to offer.

The big key for the Bluejays is to have someone else step up around the big 6-foot-3, 250-pounder, who also happens to be the defending Class 3-2-1A 285-pound state wrestling champion.

“We’re looking pretty good so far,” Auker said last week. “Had a good camp in Hays this summer, and we’re looking forward to getting that first game out of the way.”

Auker’s leadership, Melvin said, is instrumental for a Bluejay club that is turning to a lot of young players, especially on the line, where Norton was dealt a heavy blow to graduation.

“We’re just trying to fill some spots on that line, see what works best,” Auker said.

Protecting the likes of senior quarterback Jace Ruder and running back Tevin Petrie will be key to the success offensively. Ruder, a University of North Carolina commit, threw for 1,589 yards and 14 scores last year, and Petrie rushed for 1,108 yards on 155 carries with 12 scores in Norton’s 7-4 campaign and second-round appearance in the Class 3A playoffs.

“We’re still figuring things out,” Melvin said. “We have a lot of young guys that are going to have to step up. When you play that first game, some things change. But we’re excited.”

Petrie, who has his eyes on a collegiate opportunity as well, hasn’t made any big decisions yet. But, when Norton is looking for a playmaker this season, it just might be him.

“He’s always running hard,” Melvin said of Petrie, the 5-foot-10, 185-pounder. “And he works really hard in the weight room. He’s also put on a little bit more weight, and he’s gotten even a little faster, which is really good.”

Perhaps the biggest absence and need for a fill-in came with the graduation of Jacob Green, Norton’s standout defender and lineman and the three-time Hays Daily News Defensive Player of the Year.

While Green got many of the honors and racked up the tackles, though, Auker’s play on defense was equally as impressive. He had 85 stops a season ago, with a team-best 21 tackles-for-loss.

“People would always try and double up me or Jacob,” Auker said. “We just had to fight past it. That’s how we were so successful.”

Teams no doubt will look to attack Auker again this season, meaning a youthful line looks to step in and make their name.

“Have no doubt people are going to be looking out for me,” Auker said. “Kind of have to keep my head on a swivel. Just going to play my heart out and do the best I can just like I do every year.”