Arizona’s top high school football players: Meet the state’s best defensive linemen

Over the next two weeks, we’ll be taking a position-by-position look at some of the top players in Arizona high school football. Our sixth list focuses on the defensive linemen.

There are hundreds of standout football players in Arizona and these lists are not intended to be comprehensive. Let us know in the comments section which other linemen are worthy of fans’ attention in 2020.

Zach Hay photo by Elena Bernardo – EMB Photoshop

Earlier: Quarterbacks | Running backs | Wide receivers | Tight ends | Offensive linemen

DT Aaron Gerle, sr., Greenway

Gerle was a second-team 4A all-conference selection last year, when he had 13 sacks for the Demons. The Montana State commit was off to a strong start to his final season with 2½ sacks through two games before suffering a season-ending ACL injury. 

DT Aaron Wolfcale-Holsten, sr., Williams Field

Wolfcale-Holsten, an all-region honorable mention selection a year ago, has more than made up for the loss of 5A all-conference first-team pick Dalton Brown for much of the season, ranking among 6A leaders in sacks (seven) and hurries (11). He has 41 tackles (nine for loss) and has drawn interest from FCS schools San Diego and Valparaiso, among other colleges.

DT Alani Ma’afu, sr., Saguaro

Ma’afu was a first-team 4A all-conference pick for the Open Division runner-up Sabercats last season — the second year in a row he made the all-4A first team. He has 16 tackles (three for loss) and five hurries this fall. Ma’afu, a Northern Arizona commit, had several offers from FBS schools, but several of his teammates still consider him underrated. “He is a selfless team player and always has a cool head,” senior Xander Werner told ESPN.

DT Anthony Franklin, sr., Pinnacle 

A second-team 6A all-conference selection a year ago after leading the Pioneers with 15 tackles for loss and nine sacks, Franklin has followed with another strong season with 27 tackles (19 solo, 10 for loss) and four sacks. He recently committed to Stanford, choosing the Cardinal over offers from Duke, UNLV, Colorado State, Army and Air Force.

DT Anthony Lucas, jr., Chaparral

Lucas remains the state’s top Class of 2022 recruit and is No. 11 nationally among defensive tackles, according to 247Sports. He has offers from nearly two dozen Power 5 schools, including UCLA, Notre Dame, Michigan State and Oklahoma. Through the Firebirds’ first three games, he had seven tackles for loss and two sacks among his 18 tackles.

DE Ben Strawn, sr., Northwest Christian

Strawn helped the Crusaders reach last year’s 3A semifinals and earned first-team all-conference honors, finishing with 58 tackles (19 for loss) and 8½ sacks. He has drawn looks from several Division III schools, including Whittier College. 

DE Brandon Buckner, sr., Chandler

Buckner has developed into one of the state’s most feared pass rushers, following a junior season in which he earned first-team 6A all-conference honors (24 tackles for loss and 16 sacks for the Open Division champions) with a senior season that includes 12 tackles for loss, six sacks and 12 hurries through five games. To think, the Oregon commit started his Wolves career as a cornerback. “And he did it really well, too,” Chandler coach Rick Garretson said. “Then, he grew up. He got bigger, stronger, and became hell on wheels.” 

Brandon Buckner / Paul Mason Photography

DT Colin Kraemer, jr., Higley

Knights coach Eddy Zubey predicted Kraemer would become a big-time player this year after seeing limited varsity action as a sophomore, and his expectations have borne true — he ranks among 6A leaders in tackles (43) and tackles for loss (10) through six games. “Colin is very quick for his size,” Zubey said. “He has a nasty streak and is athletic.”

DE Cordell Outridge, jr., Moon Valley

Outridge has had a breakthrough campaign for the Rockets, ranking among 4A leaders in sacks. He was fourth through six weeks with seven among his 46 tackles (10½ for loss).

DT Dante Smith, sr., Desert Ridge

Smith is one of the top two-way linemen in the state, finishing with 57 tackles (nine for loss, four sacks) as a junior and earning first-team all-Central 6A honors at guard. As a wrestler, he finished second in the state in the heavyweight division last season and set the Jaguars’ school record in the weight room for the highest combined weight lifted. He has received offers from New Mexico, New Mexico State, Northern Arizona and Northern Colorado, among others.

DT Darrion Dalton, sr., Saguaro

Playing in a rotation alongside three all-conference first-teamers, Dalton still earned all-Desert Sky 4A honorable mention as a junior, making 60 tackles (20 for loss, 5½ sacks, nine hurries). The San Diego State commit had 12 tackles (five for loss) and three hurries in the Sabercats’ first four games this fall.

DE DJ Gleash, sr., Centennial

Gleash was the 5A Defensive Lineman of the Year in 2019, when he had a team-high 14½ sacks that ranked second in the conference. Coyotes coach Richard Taylor nicknamed him “Spider” for his resemblance to one on the field. This fall, he was second in the conference with nine sacks through six weeks to go with 51 tackles and three hurries. 

Anthony Franklin / Elena Bernardo – EMB Photoshop

DE Gilbert Calderon, jr., Washington

Calderon has followed a sophomore campaign in which he earned all-Black Canyon 4A first-team honors by ranking among the conference leaders in tackles (69, seventh), tackles for loss (18, third) and sacks (nine, third) entering the conference play-in round. The Rams, seeded 16th, will take on defending champion Mesquite on Friday.

DT Hunter Schlagel, sr., Cienega

When Schlagel arrived on campus, Bobcats coach Pat Nugent recalls that “he was kind of a chunky freshman that everyone thought they could beat up on the field. After that first practice, he proved that he was nasty, and now four years later, he is a beast.” Schlagel earned first-team all-Southern 5A honors as a junior and after a late start to this season, he has nine tackles (three for loss) in two games. He has offers from Northern Arizona, Southwest Minnesota State and Western New Mexico, among others. 

DE Isaiah Williams, jr., Marcos de Niza

Williams’ debut season with the Padres has been a monster campaign. He shared the 4A conference lead with 10 sacks through six games, and he had 14 tackles for loss among his 49 total. “Isaiah is an inspiration every time he is on the field,” coach Anthony Figueroa said. “All he wants to do is play football. He enjoys every rep in practice.” 

DE Jacob Holmes, jr., Cesar Chavez

Holmes, who earned second-team all-Metro 6A honors last season, and the Champions got off to a late start after the Phoenix schools delayed their season until late October. In three games, he has 23 tackles (11 for loss) and four sacks.

DE J.D. Roberts, sr., Notre Dame Prep

Roberts returned from a torn ACL as a sophomore to earn first-team 5A all-conference honors as a junior. The New Mexico commit has battled a hand injury much of this season, but that’s nothing compared with the battle he’s had with diabetes, which he’s had to overcome since developing it as a child. “He has never let his condition get him down,” Saints coach George Prelock said. “He has been a spokesperson for the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation to help encourage other young kids who have to experience the same challenges that J.D. has had to experience.”

Quintin Somerville / Heather Hackett

DE Jaelin McCullen, jr., Valley Vista

McCullen, the younger brother of former Arizona State linebacker Koron Crump (now with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the Canadian Football League), might have surprised a few people as a sophomore, when he earned first-team all-Southwest 6A honors, but not this year. He’s sixth in the conference in sacks with 6½ to go with 40 tackles (11 for loss). “He is a sure-fire FBS defensive lineman,” said Monsoon coach Josh Sekoch. 

DE Jason Rogers, sr., Glendale

Rogers is among the most improved players in the state this season, transforming from a middling defensive lineman into a top pass rusher, sharing the 4A conference lead in sacks (10) and ranking second in tackles for loss (20) through six weeks. “Jason has made tremendous strides from his junior year,” Cardinals coach Robert York said. “He is a kid whose candor is unrivaled. Even if he knows I’m not going to like an answer to a question, he will still give it to me straight.”

DT Jeremiah Tyler, sr., Chandler

Tyler is another Wolves player who entered the program at one position but shifted roles as circumstances dictated. He was a running back as a sophomore, “but he didn’t fit the mold of one,” coach Rick Garretson said. “So, we dumped him in on defense. He put his hand down as a lineman, and you can’t block him. He’s always in the other team’s backfield causing chaos.” Tyler was a second-team all-region pick last year, and through five games this season, he has 27 tackles (5½ for loss). He’s received offers from Air Force, Army, Ball State, Nevada and New Mexico. 

DE Justin Holmes, sr., Cactus

Holmes has followed a solid junior season (74 tackles, six sacks) by ranking among the 4A leaders in tackles this fall. He was 10th in tackles with 62 and tied for ninth with nine tackles for loss through six weeks.

DE Luis Lara-Arredondo, sr., Williams

Lara-Arredondo was a first-team 1A all-conference pick for last year’s state champions. This fall, he leads the team in tackles for loss (four) and hurries (15) and has 31 tackles entering the state playoffs.

DE Malaki Ta’ase, jr., Mountain View (Mesa)

Ta’ase announced his presence last season, earning a starting spot from Day 1 and finishing with second-team 6A all-conference honors. He’s carried that strong play forward this fall, leading the conference with 13 sacks through seven games to go with 63 tackles (20 for loss).

Malaki Ta’ase / Joanna Finkenkeller

DT Micah Ferrin, sr., ALA-Queen Creek

Ferrin was a first-team all-conference selection last fall for the 3A state champion Patriots, leading the conference in tackles for loss (29) and finishing second in sacks (13). His team moved up to 4A this year, but that hasn’t slowed Ferrin one bit — he again leads his conference in tackles for loss with 23 through six games to go with 50 tackles and six sacks.

DE Payson Cardon, sr., Snowflake

Cardon was a first-team all-East 3A selection as a junior and has ranked among the conference leaders in sacks (seven) and tackles for loss (8½) through five games this season for the region co-champions.

DE Porter Reynolds, soph., Queen Creek

Reynolds, a second-team all-Central 6A selection as a freshman, projects as an inside linebacker at the next level but moved up front this season to fill a position of need for the Bulldogs. He’s avoided a sophomore slump, ranking among team leaders in tackles (39) and sacks (3½) through six games. 

DE Quintin Somerville, sr., Saguaro

Somerville has moved up to No. 3 on 247Sports’ list of Arizona recruits. The Michigan commit, a two-time first-team 4A all-conference pick, has had a solid season for the Sabercats with nine tackles for loss and 2½ sacks through four games. His older brother, Jordan, is running backs coach at the University of New Mexico.

DE R.J. Roberts, sr., Desert Edge

Roberts was a first-team 4A all-conference selection last year in helping the Scorpions reach the state championship game. This fall, he leads the team with six tackles for loss and has 25 tackles and two sacks.

R.J. Roberts / Desert Edge High School

DE Riley Davies, sr., Cactus

A second-team 4A all-conference selection a year ago, Davies has followed with a solid senior season with 46 tackles (five for loss) and three sacks for the Cobras.

DE Rodney Young Jr., sr., Agua Fria

Young, a first-team all-Desert West 5A selection as a junior, has ranked among the conference sack leaders all season, taking over the lead with a four-sack performance in the Owls’ Week 7 victory over Independence. He has 48 tackles.

DE Russell Davis II, jr., Hamilton

Davis, the son of nine-year NFL veteran Russell Davis, had a breakthrough performance in the Huskies’ nationally televised victory over Saguaro with eight tackles and three sacks against a 2019 Open Division finalist. That did not surprise Hamilton coach Mike Zdebski. “He always comes out of his shell in games,” Zdebski said. “He’s very unemotional and focused in practice, but he ratchets it up in games. He’s just tearing it up right now.” Through six games, Davis is third in 6A with eight sacks, and he has 44 tackles (10 for loss). 

DE Shakaun Bowser, jr., Casteel

Bowser whetted the appetite of Colts fans with his play in spot duty as a sophomore, making eight tackles for loss, 2½ sacks and nine hurries. He’s become a key part of the defensive line this fall with 41 tackles, six hurries and five sacks through five games. He’s received offers from Arizona, Colorado, Fresno State and Southern Mississippi.

DE Steven Kennedy Jr., jr., Perry

Kennedy was a first-team all-Premier 6A selection last year, when he started as a 14-year-old sophomore. He was in and out of the lineup to start this season but came back in Week 7 against Pinnacle and had seven tackles. In the meantime, he turned 16 and earned his driver’s license, but not before going through coach Preston Jones’ personal driving school. “He’s just a young puppy, and I was a little nervous with him in control of a big piece of machinery,” Jones said. “He had to earn my trust, so he did some lessons with Coach Jones driving my truck before he could get his license.”

Steven Kennedy Jr. / Heather Hackett

DT T.J. McRae, sr., Centennial

McRae was a two-year starter at center for Saguaro and has an offer from Memphis, but his future might lie on the defensive line after working with former Cardinals defensive end Bertrand Berry in the offseason. He missed the season’s first four games after transferring to the Coyotes in January but instantly entered the interior line rotation when he became eligible, making three tackles in his debut against Chandler.  

DE Trey Brown, sr., Arcadia

A second-team 4A all-conference selection a year ago, Brown recently committed to Duke — choosing the Blue Devils over offers from Washington State, Utah State, Hawaii and Colorado State, among others. The son of 20-year NFL offensive lineman Ray Brown has been among the conference leaders in tackles most of the season; he has 56 tackles (six for loss) through six games for the Titans.

DE Zac Swanson, jr., Brophy Prep

Swanson, the son of former NFL offensive tackle Pete Swanson, received all-region honorable mention as a sophomore despite missing most of the season with a broken hand. His recruiting blew up over the summer, with offers from 11 Power 5 schools to date, including Auburn, Oklahoma, Oregon and Indiana. He’s been a bright spot during a disappointing season for the Broncos with 24 tackles (seven for loss) and seven hurries in six games.

DE Zach Hay, sr., Mountain Pointe

Pride coach Eric Lauer calls Hay “a throwback blue-collar player.” He earned all-Central 6A honorable mention last season, when he was second on the team in tackles with 81. This fall, he has 29 tackles, including a team-high three for loss, and an interception, and he’s received an offer from FCS San Diego.

DE Zion Magalei, sr., Chandler

Magalei recently committed to Colorado over Power 5 offers from Arizona and Kansas State among his eight FBS offers. A first-team 6A all-conference selection as a junior, he has had a relatively quiet senior season, with nine tackles, four hurries and two fumble recoveries in the Wolves’ first five games. “Zion has unlimited potential,” Chandler coach Rick Garretson said. “He’s just a very physical player. He’s a force in the run game, and he’s a speed guy as well.”

Zion Magalei / Paul Mason Photography

MORE FOOTBALL

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Meet the state’s best wide receivers

Meet the state’s best tight ends

Meet the state’s best offensive linemen

2020 high school football preview

6A football at midseason

5A football at midseason

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