Ironwood Ridge’s Austin Goddard forced this fumble last year, then scrambled over CDO quarterback Jordon Closs-Lopez to recover the ball.

While we officially kicked off the countdown to high school football Monday, today we're adding another element to the fun.

Over the next 22 days, we will feature our picks of Southern Arizona's top preseason players.

Our list begins with Ironwood Ridge junior linebacker Austin Goddard, the lone returning starter for the defending state champion Nighthawks.

Austin Goddard

  • The rundown: Austin Goddard, MLB, 5-10, 220, Ironwood Ridge, junior
  • Who he is: The heart and soul of the Nighthawks' defense. Goddard, who is entering his second year as a starter and third year on varsity, will take the lead role as the only returning starter from a squad that registered three shutouts last year and held opponents to 14 points a game. He had 30 solo tackles and four sacks last year and was second on the team with 76 total tackles behind fellow linebacker Scott Simmons, the Star's defensive player of the year. Over the offseason, Goddard, who has a 3.8 GPA, said he worked on improving his speed, which coach Matt Johnson believes is the one thing he needs to improve to play Division I football. Goddard also put on around 12 pounds, increased his bench press by 30 pounds and squat by 40.
  • Proof he's good: Johnson calls Goddard "a pretty special package" and said he's not missing much. "He's got the brains, he's physical, he tackles well. Everyone talks about how tackling is a lost art, but he tackles very well. I think he's got a ton of strengths." Johnson also compared Goddard to last year's free safety John Robert Klass, who had 69 tackles, two interceptions and one fumble recovery, and said Goddard will make the right plays with the right technique and put the team first.
  • He said it: "He's just a throwback 1950s type of kid. He's a 'yes sir, no sir,' guy, real polite, real quiet, but on the field he's a Doberman Pinscher. He's a big, physical linebacker." - Johnson