CDO’s Walker Padilla brings down I-Ridge running back Jake Vartanian. Padilla says he watches linemen to figure out the play.

Kelly Presnell / Arizona Daily Star 2013

Since the beginning of August and through Friday, the Star is featuring some of Southern Arizona’s top high school football players to watch this fall. Our series continues today with Walker Padilla, a hard-nosed linebacker for Canyon del Oro hoping to make more of an offensive impact this season.

Walker Padilla

The rundown: OLB/RB, 6-0, 205, Canyon del Oro, senior

Who he is: Whether he’s on offense or defense, Padilla is a bulldog. He’s been hitting ever since he decided to quit hockey for football at age 5. Last season, Padilla was second on the CDO defense with 85 tackles, including a team-high 13 tackles-for-loss. He also forced two fumbles and blocked a field goal.

Entering his third season as a starter on defense, Padilla receives raves from coach Dusty Peace for quickness. While Padilla has run a 4.7 second 40-yard dash, the sixth-year coach noted Padilla’s ability to read and react in a 10-yard span, which separates him from some of the linebackers Peace has coached in the past.

Used mainly as a decoy and blocking back last season, Padilla will see a larger role on offense. His toughness and hands make Padilla a threat to score in the red zone. He was one of nine players to score at least one rushing touchdown a year ago and also pulled in two touchdown passes. Peace really took note of Padilla’s offensive abilities in the second week of the season in 2013 when the junior caught a dart out of the backfield and hurdled a defender on his way to a 31-yard touchdown. Padilla compares football to life, realizing you struggle in the real world, but just like leg cramps flaring up in the fourth quarter, you just have to push through it and deal with what you have.

He has been in contact with the University of Hawaii, but said he has wanted to be a Navy SEAL since he was 3.

Proof he’s good: Padilla’s knowledge allows him to play fast. Peace said outside linebacker is the most complex position to play in their system, and the spot requires “thinkers.” Padilla is able to contain and stuff the run so well because of his understanding of what the offense is trying to do. More than research and film studying, Padilla is reliant on his instincts.

When approaching the line of scrimmage as a linebacker, he watches the opponents’ offensive linemen. By observing their mannerism and eye placement, Padilla can tell whether a team is running or passing.

Against Catalina Foothills last year, Padilla made a season-high 14 tackles, including seven for-loss. In CDO’s two playoff games, Padilla recorded 14 total tackles and scored a touchdown.

He said it: “One of Walker’s goals is to become a Navy SEAL, which would be perfect for him because he’s one of those guys who would run through a wall for his teammates. That’s been his mold since he’s been here.” — Peace