We officially kicked off the countdown to high school football three weeks ago but we’re adding another element to the fun today.

Over the next 22 days, in no particular order, we will feature our picks of Southern Arizona’s top preseason players.

Our list begins with Salpointe Catholic’s Jake Ksiazek, the only returning player for the Lancers to score in last year’s state championship game.

Jake Ksiazek

The rundown: Jake Ksiazek, TE/LB, 6-2, 220, Salpointe, junior

  • Who he is: Ksiazek will be a team captain and two-way starter for the defending state champions, at tight end and outside linebacker. After spending last season as a defensive end, Ksiazek is looking forward to having space to move around in the backfield as he replaces the graduated Kevin Hamlett, who was third on the team with 5.2 tackles a game last fall. Salpointe coach Dennis Bene said the main focus of the position change will be making sure he gets comfortable in space and doesn’t fall out of position but Ksiazek doesn’t see that as an issue. He said
  • he feels much quicker and stronger than last year thanks to cutting roughly 20 pounds of excess weight he put on to help play on the line. Additionally, Ksiazek said he put in time over
  • the offseason running ladders and working on his routes to make him a force on the other side of the ball too, as he was when he was a two-way player on the freshman team three years ago. Bene said finding a true tight end at the high school level is tough so he’s eager to take advantage of all his skills.
  • Proof he’s good: Bene said college coaches have already begun to notice Ksiazek for his size and athleticism and believes he’ll be highly sought after. As a sophomore, Ksiazek was sixth on the team with 3.5 tackles a game, seven tackles-for-loss and four sacks. Senior middle l
  • inebacker Taylor Powell, who verbally committed to Nevada, is the
  • only returning player with more tackles on the team after h
  • e had averaged 11.5 in 2013. Ksiazek had some of his best performances o
  • n the biggest stages. When the Lancers hosted undefeated Tempe Marcos de Niza last September, he registered a season-high seven tackles and two sacks. Then, in the Division II state championship game at Arizona Stadium, Ksiazek
  • returned a
  • blocked punt for a 7-yard t
  • ouchdown, Salpointe’s final score of its 14-0 season.

He said it: “He’s very respected by his coaches and peers and, because he’s got a championship under his belt, he knows what it takes. He understands the grind, he understands the commitment and, at the end of the day, he has earned the respect of everybody in our program so he’s a perfect young player to put in a leadership role.” — Bene