Since the beginning of August and through next Friday, the Star is featuring some of Southern Arizona’s top high school football players to watch this fall.

Our series continues today with Taylor Powell, whose Salpointe Catholic team hosts Sierra Vista Buena a week from tonight to help kick off the 2014 season. Powell was one of the major components in the Lancers’ undefeated run to the Division II state crown a year ago.

Taylor Powell

The rundown: Taylor Powell, MLB/RB, 6-1, 220, Salpointe Catholic, senior

Who he is: The leader of the Salpointe defense, with the athletic gifts to excel at running back and the ability to make plays, big and small. With the majority of the Lancers’ history-making defense gone, and a good chunk of the offense, too, more responsibility than ever falls on Powell’s broad shoulders. Yet, the senior is more than ready for the challenge of being captain, and coach Dennis Bene said it’s the final element for the quiet linebacker to master. He has the tangibles — field vision, athleticism, intelligence — but Bene said figuring out the remaining “intangibles” could push the All-Southern Arizona defender to the next level.

After last season, he doesn’t have far to go. Powell recorded 161 tackles a year ago, the third-most in school history, despite the Salpointe starters usually being substituted midway through the third quarter of each blowout. Powell’s goal is to break the school’s single-season tackle record (172), but he’s also focused on his new role in a three-man running back platoon. Bene said he has the physical tools to be the starting tailback at any school in town, and Powell’s adjustment will be made even easier with top-tier talent such as Justin Holt opening holes for him. Holt, a junior two-way lineman, already has an offer to UA and has attended several elite football camps over the summer, and Powell attributed a lot of his success at linebacker in 2013 to the play of the defensive line.

Proof he’s good: Powell has proven it against the best. At last year’s San Diego State Passing Tournament, Powell and six other Lancers faced La Mesa (California) Helix High in a 7-on-7 minimal contact game. The Southern California football factory has produced big names such as Reggie Bush and Alex Smith, to name a couple, yet a then-junior Powell held his own with both his Lancers teammates and the Highlanders. It was a turning point for Powell, Bene said, as Powell grew in confidence and “swagger” and started acting like a middle linebacker. During the season, Powell didn’t back away from competition either. All of Powell’s five sacks and two interceptions came against playoff opponents, and so did four of his five forced fumbles. After this season, he’ll continue testing his abilities as a middle linebacker at Nevada.

He said it: “When I was young, I started playing on the defensive side of the ball, so it just grew as a part of me. I’ve always wanted to be a linebacker.” — Powell