It takes 30 minutes to drive to Mountain View High School from central Tucson. In Week 1, the trek to see the Mountain Lions host Salpointe Catholic, a state title contender, might have been a chore.

One of Southern Arizona’s best players made the trip worth it.

Mountain View’s Kai Golden showed in a 31-0 loss why he might be the best defensive tackle in the state. Golden got off blocks, closed off gaps and rushed the quarterback against a Salpointe Catholic offensive line that includes Washington commit Matteo Mele. He was a disruptive force on the interior and sacked the Lancers’ quarterback once, and rushed him another time.

Golden wants to be considered in the same breath as Mele and Tucson’s elite prospects. His legend could grow as Mountain View recovers from its opening loss. The Lions, who are 1-1 after beating Rincon/University last week, will play at Sunnyside at 7 p.m. on Friday.

The 6-foot-3-inch, 290-pound Golden has dreams of being one of the nation’s best. His first goal has already been reached.

Golden and his family moved to Tucson from Jacksonville, North Carolina, three years ago. The day he arrived on Mountain View’s campus, Golden vowed that he would get a free college education, no matter where that was or what that meant.

“I wanted to come out and do the best I could do and even if I had a Division III scholarship, I would’ve been happy to just go to school for free,” he said.

On March 2, Virginia — one of the best public universities in the country — called with an offer. Golden said he experienced “utter joy.”

Two days later, New Mexico State called and did the same. Air Force and Montana followed two months later. New Mexico, Hawaii and Wyoming could offer him soon, and Golden’s been talking to coaches from Washington, Kansas State and Oklahoma. He took part in a camp at Arizona State this summer, checked out Cal’s campus and participated in Nike’s The Opening camp in Los Angeles.

He’s well past just getting his education paid for.

“He already smiles, but when he got some offers he smiled a little bit harder,” said Mountain View coach Clarence McRae. “But every time, he didn’t get sidetracked because he understood it was supposed to come because we’ve been working hard toward those things.

“We talk about sticking with your goals, and ultimately right now he’s on the verge of reaching that goal because he planned it out from the first time he stepped on campus.”

Sometimes, Golden can’t believe he’s come this far, that with a strong senior season, he could start receiving scholarship offers from top-level college programs. Then he’s reminded that things could still get better.

For one, Golden still feels like he has some untapped potential as a player. As a junior, Golden managed 40 tackles, five for loss, with 4.5 sacks, nine quarterback hurries, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. Mountain View went 7-4 and lost its state playoff opener to Gilbert Mesquite by two points.

Now, Golden wants to win a state championship. He also wants elite programs to notice him, and he’s well aware when they’re watching.

“It gives me motivation to never take a play off and always go 100 percent,” Golden said. “On the field, I always think of, like, if someone is watching you, even if the play doesn’t come your way, always dominate your man. Show them that you can be the most dominant player on the field and make them want you.”

Golden’s first goal was to receive a college scholarship.

Now he wants Oklahoma to notice him.

He’s come a long way, but he insists it hasn’t changed him.

“Going back to my freshman year and what I envisioned for myself, I’d say I exceeded” his own expectations, Golden said. “I always set a goal and once I pass that goal, I want to raise the bar.

“I like to work like I still have no offers,” he added. “For me, that’s the key.”

Contact:zrosenblatt@tucson.com or 573-4145. On Twitter: @ZackBlatt