Upper Arlington High School football coach Joel Cutler has seen every play linebacker Dante Landolfi has made as a Golden Bear, but perhaps none sticks out more than one stop from Landolfi’s first varsity game.

“It was a fourth-down play at about midfield and we weren’t off to the best start,” Cutler said. “He came up like a freight train, filled a gap and stuffed them on fourth down. We got the ball back and scored. That was a big momentum swing for our team and probably for our program, looking back. I knew at that point he would be something special.”

UA went on to win that game, beating Dublin Jerome 20-3 in the 2015 opener. The win kickstarted an 8-4 season that resulted in the Bears’ most recent playoff appearance.

Landolfi has been a stalwart on defense ever since, and things have gone largely how a lifelong football devotee whose first dreams of playing at the college level came at age 7 would have hoped.

The 6-foot-2, 230-pound senior leads UA in both total tackles (39) and solo stops (24), and while he is all but assured of playing at the next level, he hopes to help the Bears shake off a frustrating few weeks when they open OCC-Central Division play Friday, Sept. 29, at Westland.

Landolfi made 66.5 tackles as a freshman and a team-high 106 last season, including two sacks, to earn first-team all-league and second-team all-district honors.

“I am making more athletic plays and being smarter than I have in the past,” he said. “(Last year) gave me the confidence to step out of my comfort zone and make a play. Sometimes, that needs to be done. I think that confidence carried over a lot to help me make some gutsy plays.”

Landolfi also sees time as a blocker on both offense and special teams. As a fullback, he has yet to get a carry this season.

Landolfi made such a splash as a freshman that Cutler immediately promoted him to junior varsity, but not before clearing the move with Landolfi’s parents, John and Chrissie.

“He was physically mature enough but also intelligent enough that we could move him up right away,” Cutler said. “I wanted (his parents’) blessing with a move like that. If it’s a bad experience, it can be detrimental to their growth.”

Landolfi’s prowess in the classroom – he scored a perfect 36 on the ACT last spring – helped earn him the attention of several Ivy League schools as well as Stanford. He got his first scholarship offer from Dartmouth on Oct. 30, 2016, and since has earned several more, including offers from Brown, Carnegie Mellon, Columbia, Davidson, Dayton and Morehead State.

Stanford offered Landolfi preferred walk-on status in the summer.

“You have to be a little special to get that chance to play college football for those elite programs,” said Landolfi, who wants to make a decision by Nov. 1. “Why not try to put everything together and do something I love to do? If you ask my dad (who played for Westminster College), I’ve wanted to play college football since I was 7. It’s about the most I could ask for.”

UA lost its second consecutive game Sept. 22, falling to Pickerington Central to slip to 2-3.

Westland fell to 1-4 with a 24-14 loss at Canal Winchester on Sept. 21. Matt Bailey rushed for 88 yards and two touchdowns on 13 carries, but momentum swung to the Indians early in the fourth quarter when Cougars quarterback Tyquwone Workman fumbled near midfield.

Canal Winchester scored the final 10 points of the game.

Workman was making his first varsity start after incumbent starter DeShawn Evans was lost for the season with a broken right ankle.

UA is 24-1 all-time against Westland and has outscored the Cougars 509-59 in their past nine meetings, including 56-0 last year.

“We pride ourselves on how we respond,” tight end Will Robbins said. “It wasn’t the outcome we wanted, but we’ve responded well when we’ve lost. I think it’s going to pay off this week and pay off down the line. We still have all of our goals ahead of us.”

dpurpura@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekDave