Sabino’s Diego Armijo, left, played free safety and linebacker in 2018.

Over the next three weeks, the Star is counting down Southern Arizona's top 22 football players. Up today: No. 21, Sabino safety Diego Armijo.

Name: Diego Armijo

The rundown: Armijo is a 6-foot-2, 175-pound junior at Sabino.

Who he is: The Sabercats lost a plethora of weapons on both sides of the ball from 2017, including Isaiah Smotherman, Alex Bell, Bennet Nottingham and Luke Moran. Armijo will likely be one of the players head coach Ryan McBrayer relies on this season to make plays.

Last season as a sophomore, Armijo played half the year on junior varsity as a quarterback and started behind center for the Sabercats. But on varsity, he played defensive back. Armijo recorded 19 tackles as a free safety, but tackling isn’t his bread and butter. Armijo led the Sabercats in interceptions with six while the second leader only had two.

Not only is Armijo a ballhawk, he’s also lethal with the ball after interceptions. He averaged 37.8 yards per return in 2017, bringing balls back a total 227 yards. Off the field, Armijo is a soft-spoken athlete, but on the field, he’s a different person. McBrayer told the Star that Armijo is constantly reading coverages as a student of the game and competes at the highest level.

Proof he’s good: While Armijo will be one of Sabino’s best defenders, McBrayer plans on utilizing him just about everywhere. Senior quarterback James Hamilton, replacing Bell, is penciled in as the starter and Armijo will be his backup, including for certain packages that include a mobile quarterback.

Armijo compared his skillset to that of former Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson. McBrayer said he’s been seeing similarities to Drew Dixon, a former Sabercat that graduated in 2017 and is currently a receiver at UA.

One of the reasons Sabino was successful with Dixon was because his positions would change every week. Game planning against the Sabercats gave opposing coaches headaches, and Armijo has the potential to be Dixon 2.0. Considering McBrayer didn’t coach Dixon in high school, comparing his current player to a Sabino legend is a bold and worthy compliment.

He said it: “We’re putting more and more on his plate. He’ll play free safety, he’ll play quarterback, he’ll play receiver, he’ll play pretty much every position because he’s an athlete. He’s a Swiss army knife. … We’re just trying to bring out that Drew-Dixon-dog mentality out of Diego when he’s on the field.” — McBrayer

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