Hunter Schlagel, left, made a name for himself on the defensive line during his first two seasons at Cienega. Expect the junior to contribute on both sides this year. “It’s about time we see Hunter play a little bit more offense,” coach Pat Nugent said.

The Star is counting down the top football players in Southern Arizona in the weeks leading up to the season.

Today: Cienega junior Hunter Schlagel

The rundown: Schlagel is a 6-foot-3-inch, 278-pound defensive tackle and offensive lineman.

Who he is: Cienega lost a plethora of talent from a team that went 9-3 a year ago, including a group of skill players that included Class 5A Southern Region Player of the Year Terrell Hayward. However, the Bobcats return with one of the top tackles in Southern Arizona. Schlagel has been a two-year contributor on Cienega’s varsity team. His size and feel for the uptempo pace gave him a spot in Cienega’s defensive tackle rotation in 2017. Taking over as a two-way starter in 2018, Schlagel registered 29 tackles and no sacks in 12 games. His six tackles-for-loss were third on the team .

“Last year I thought I did pretty good. I was trying to lose a little weight and mainly helped out on the defensive line,” Schlagel said.

Now a junior and one of three starters returning to Cienega’s defense, “I feel like more people look up to me because of the experience,” he said.

Schlagel will play more on offense than he did last season, and now that he’s officially an upperclassman, Schlagel has emerged as one of Cienega’s team leaders.

“It’s about time we see Hunter play a little bit more offense. He’s a dominant offensive lineman and we’ve been kind of playing him on defense mostly, but he’ll be a kid that sees both sides of the ball,” Cienega coach Pat Nugent said.

“Hunter has never been a vocal leader. He’s a quiet kid and a big teddy bear, but he’s such an intimidating factor on the field.”

Schlagel gained eight pounds during the offseason, and hopes the added bulk — and an uptick in his performance — could help him land college scholarship offers.

Schlagel will have a chance to showcase why he’s one of the top interior defensive linemen in Southern Arizona on Sept. 6, when the Bobcats host two-time defending Class 5A state champion Peoria Centennial. Schlagel will match up against one of the top offensive and defensive lines in Arizona.

“My biggest improvement was definitely my strength. I wasn’t as strong as I am now so I’m ready to help up front even more this season,” Schlagel said. “I’m really looking forward to that Centennial game because going up against their big guys will test my abilities.”

Proof he’s good: Schlagel made the Class 5A Southern Region All-Defensive first team in 2018, the only underclassman to do so.

He said it: “When he came up as a freshman, he was timid. Now, he’s got a nastiness that goes along with his game. … He no longer has that freshman mentality, that sophomore mentality. This is a kid that knows what it takes to be a varsity football player and now he plays with a nastiness that he’s not intimidated by anybody. ”

— Nugent

Sports producer

Justin Spears is an award-winning sports journalist and Tucson native. He can be reached at jspears@tucson.com. On Twitter @justinesports.