The Neosho Wildcats open the 2019 football season on the road August 30 against Central Ozark Conference rival Ozark.

The Wildcats, coming off a 8-4 record last season in head coach Leon Miller’s second season, play five games on the road and four at home with their longest road trips opening and finishing up the regular season. Neosho travels in Week 9 to face Republic at the Tigers’ new stadium.

Neosho hosts Branson, Webb City, Nixa, and Willard, meaning the Wildcats do not have to make three of their longest road trips (Branson, Nixa, Willard), at least this season.

The Wildcats’ other road games are Carthage, Joplin, and Carl Junction.

Neosho’s four losses last season came against three state semifinal qualifiers — twice against Webb City (41-0, 35-7) and then once against Carthage (49-7) and Joplin (20-6).

Webb City reached the semis in Class 4, Carthage in Class 5, and Joplin in Class 6.

One can expect the Central Ozark Conference to be a dogfight once again this season.

Webb City went unbeaten in conference play last season, while Carthage, Joplin, and Neosho dropped one, two, and three COC games, respectively.

The top four teams in the COC combined for a 42-10 overall and 30-6 COC record. Please keep in mind that the other five teams combined for 18-49 overall and 15-39 COC.

Webb City, Carthage, and Joplin each scored more than 500 points and the Webb City defense finished with 165 points allowed over a 14-game slate.

NHS schedule: Aug. 30 at Ozark; Sept. 6 vs. Branson; Sept. 13 vs. Webb City; Sept. 20 at Carthage; Sept. 27 vs. Nixa; Oct. 4 at Joplin; Oct. 11 at Carl Junction; Oct. 18 vs. Willard; Oct. 25 at Republic.

— Joplin returns standout receiver and defensive back Zach Westmoreland, who did a little bit of everything for the Eagles in their 20-6 victory last season over Neosho at Bob Anderson Stadium.

Westmoreland scored all three touchdowns for the Eagles and in three different phases with scores on the ground, through the air, and an interception return.

During his junior season, Westmoreland caught 72 passes for 959 yards and 13 touchdowns, rushed for 354 yards and 11 TDs on 41 carries, and made 58 tackles with seven interceptions. He also totaled 526 return yards. Westmoreland recorded over 1,300 yards from scrimmage and over 1,800 all-purpose yards.

Westmoreland also excelled in basketball and track his junior season — 13 points, 4.5 rebounds, 2.1 assists, and 1.8 steals per game in basketball and he established an all-class record in the javelin with a toss of 194 feet, 6 inches and he placed fifth in the long jump at the Class 5 state meet.

Westmoreland’s classmate and fellow offensive standout, running back Isaiah Davis, announced earlier this summer that he’s committed to South Dakota State.

Davis rushed for 1,676 yards and 28 touchdowns on 203 carries last season, and those numbers would seem to go well with the South Dakota State football program.

The Jackrabbits finished 10-3 overall and 6-2 Missouri Valley last season, and were eliminated by conference rival and perennial FCS powerhouse North Dakota State.

Other returning players of note in the COC are Carthage defensive line standouts Oscar Campa and Alex Martini, Carthage quarterback Patrick Carlton, Carthage linebacker Kale Schrader, Webb City receiver and defensive back Terrell Kabala and running back Devrin Weathers, Joplin quarterback Blake Tash, and Ozark receiver Jake Skaggs.

Neosho incoming seniors Sam Cook, Quincey Willis, and Gage Kelley all earned one form of all-conference recognition or another last season — Cook at linebacker, Willis defensive back, and Kelley quarterback. Kelley and Willis battled for the starting quarterback position all the way through the season opener.

The Wildcats improved their win total by six and reached the district championship game.

— This is a season for stability after a whole lot of newness in the 2018 season.

Last season, Joplin debuted in the Central Ozark Conference, the 14-team Big 8 Conference debuted its West and East divisional format, and the refurbished Southwest Conference debuted.

That’s enough change for a lifetime.

Big 8 West member Seneca opens the season at home against Springfield Catholic (Aug. 30), travels to Reeds Spring and Nevada (Sept. 6 and Sept. 13), hosts Cassville (Sept. 20), travels to Lamar (Sept. 27), hosts Monett and Mount Vernon (Oct. 4 and Oct. 11), travels across Newton County to face East Newton (Oct. 18), and finishes the regular season at home against McDonald County (Oct. 25). The Indians play five at home and four on the road.

Big 8 West member McDonald County does not have to wait long to debut its field turf, hosting Marshfield to open the season. The Mustangs then travel to Rogersville to face Logan-Rogersville, return home for East Newton and Hollister, travel to Nevada, host Cassville, travel to Lamar, host Monett, and travel to Seneca. The Mustangs play five at home and four on the road.

Big 8 West member East Newton takes its first crack at ending two-plus seasons of futility in the season opener at home against Hollister. The Patriots then trek to Aurora and McDonald County, return home for Nevada, travel to Cassville, host Lamar, travel to Monett, and host Seneca and Springfield Catholic to close out the regular season. Like both McDonald County and Seneca, East Newton plays five at home and four on the road.

Southwest Conference member Diamond opens on the road against Ash Grove, opens at home against defending SWC champion Pierce City and then former Spring River Valley Conference rival Jasper, plays three straight on the road against Miller, Marionville, and Adrian, returns home for Pleasant Hope and Sarcoxie, and closes out the regular season on the road against Lockwood. The Wildcats play four at home and five on the road.

In the Daily News core coverage area, Kyle Wood is the new head coach at East Newton. He’s a former Monett assistant coach and his hiring marks a trend of former Monett assistant coaches being hired for head coaching jobs in the Big 8, after McDonald County hired Kellen Hoover before the 2017 season. In Hoover’s first season at McDonald County, the Mustangs improved by five wins from a winless season in 2016.

— There have been a few new rules changes for the upcoming season from the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS). Here they are straight from the book:

A legal scrimmage formation now requires at least five offensive players on their line of scrimmage with no more than four backs. This change will make it easier to identify legal and illegal offensive formations.

To have a more consistent time period between downs, the rules committee approved situations where 40 seconds will be placed on the play clock. The new rule defines when 40 seconds will be placed on the play clock and when 25 seconds will be placed on the play clock.

In an effort to decrease risk, tripping the runner is now prohibited. It is now a foul to intentionally use the lower leg or foot to obstruct a runner below the knees.

The penalty for illegally kicking or batting the ball was reduced from 15 to 10 yards.

Grabbing the name plate area of the jersey of the runner, directly below the back collar, and pulling the runner to the ground is now an illegal personal contact foul.

Points of emphasis this season are proper procedures for weather delay and free-blocking zone and legal blocking.

— Massive changes, though, will be coming to baseball, basketball, football, soccer, softball, and volleyball in the 2020-21 school year.

That’s just taking in Proposal 10, addressing competitive equity between public and non-public schools that passed 294-133.

Proposal 10 will remove the 1.35 enrollment multiplier currently in place for non-public and charter schools, and replace it with the Championship Factor. The Championship Factor will re-classify non-public and charter schools based on a point system tied in with their success at district and state tournaments over a six-year period.

Proposal 9, which passed 376-51, will restructure the procedures for sport and activity classification. We could be seeing an extra classification for several team sports, according to MSHSAA communications director Jason West, as the state wants to make sure the difference in enrollment between the smallest and largest schools — in each class above Class 1 — are no more than double.

— At the collegiate level, former Neosho High standout Bryce Murphy enters his redshirt sophomore season at NCAA Division II Pittsburg State.

In 10 games last season, Murphy caught seven passes for 67 yards and rushed for two yards on his only carry.

Back in April during the annual Spring Game, Murphy scored a rushing TD on a 2-yard end around.

During his senior season at Neosho, Murphy enjoyed an outstanding close to his prep career with 56 receptions for 1,225 yards and 12 touchdowns. Murphy earned Class 5 all-state honors.

Pitt State, meanwhile, comes off an 8-3 season in 2018 and the Gorillas’ three losses came against Northwest Missouri (31-7), Fort Hays (50-21), and Washburn (40-23).

The Gorillas open their 2019 season Thursday, Sept. 5, on the road against Central Oklahoma and the rest of their regular season games are home against Emporia State (Sept. 14) and Northeastern State (Sept. 21), on the road against Nebraska-Kearney (Sept. 28), back home against Lincoln (Oct. 5), on the road against Northwest Missouri (Oct. 12), home against Fort Hays (Oct. 19), on the road against Central Missouri (Oct. 26), home against Missouri Western (Nov. 2), on the road against Washburn (Nov. 9), and home against Missouri Southern (Nov. 16).

Speaking of Southern, the Lions open Sept. 5 at home against Nebraska-Kearney, then it’s on the road against Lincoln (Sept. 12), home against Northwest Missouri (Sept. 21), road against Fort Hays (Sept. 28), home against Central Missouri (Oct. 5), road against Missouri Western (Oct. 12), home against Washburn (Oct. 19), road against Northeastern State (Oct. 26) and Central Oklahoma (Nov. 2), home against Emporia State (Nov. 9), and road against Pitt State (Nov. 16).