Maximus Stienecker gets a kick out of the reaction he often receives when he steps onto the field at left guard or inside linebacker for the Hartley High School football team.

The 5-foot-9, 185-pound Stienecker quickly silences all opponents who might think they can man-handle the undersized, two-way senior.

"Last year (when I played) center (weighing 175 pounds), almost every game the nose guard or (defensive tackle) would start laughing, or they'd say something like, 'Are you the center?' " Stienecker said. "I kind of use it to my advantage in some things like leverage, and mentally you kind of have a chip on your shoulder because people don't think you're as good."

Stienecker has played the disrespected card perfectly this fall.

Moved from center to left guard in the offseason to replace a first-team all-state selection in 2017 graduate Thomas Casimir, Stienecker and his fellow offensive linemen had helped the Hawks average 331 yards rushing through eight games.

Hartley improved to 8-1 overall with a 24-19 win over North Canton Hoover on Oct. 20 as Elijah Carter rushed for 120 yards and one touchdown and Alexander Blackmon ran for two scores. The Hawks are 2-0 in the CCL and will look to wrap up the league championship and a home playoff berth in Division III, Region 11 when they play host to St. Charles on Friday, Oct. 27.

Having Stienecker at such an important spot on the line never has been an issue despite his lack of size.

"We don't even look at (a player's size)," coach Brad Burchfield said. "It's about how much you're willing to care about your team. He's very athletic and very tough."

Stienecker sees an offensive line that has matured significantly since Hartley lost to Toledo Central Catholic 35-16 in its season opener Aug. 25 when he was the only player with extensive experience.

"It's all about technique and leverage, just bear-crawling and getting low," Stienecker said. "These big guys (on opposing defenses) hate bear-crawling. Being a lineman at Hartley is awesome because ... the game's all in your hands, and that's what you want as a lineman."

Although Stienecker attended Duquesne University's football camp as a running back, he's never been a running back for Hartley and isn't sure that he'll play football collegiately.

His father, Scott, played baseball at Bowling Green but later transferred to Ohio State, where he became involved in promoting concerts at the university.

Scott Stienecker eventually became president and CEO of PromoWest Productions.

The family now resides in Blacklick, and the younger Stienecker transferred from the Gahanna school district to St. Matthew School in the Catholic Diocese as an eighth-grader.

Around that time, he met DeSales senior linebacker Ty Van Fossen, and the two have remained close friends despite attending different high schools.

Stienecker and Van Fossen visited the University of Cincinnati together during the offseason. Van Fossen has since committed to play for Bearcats coach Luke Fickell, a DeSales graduate.

"(Cincinnati) actually offered me an assistant coaching job to come there as a student coach, to be a graduate assistant, eventually," Stienecker said.

Stienecker has been a defensive standout since late last season. He had 42 tackles and three tackles for loss through eight games this season.

After not playing much defense during last year's regular season, Stienecker started at linebacker in a 14-7 win over Kettering Alter in a Division IV state semifinal and made five tackles.

In Hartley's 3-5 alignment, he and senior James Reese III line up at inside linebacker, with senior Anthony Blackmon at middle linebacker.

Hartley allowed an average of just 8.7 points in its first seven wins this season.

"I do feel undersized (at linebacker), but it's technique," Stienecker said. "I don't think I tackle traditionally. ... I just love the culture here."

julrey@thisweeknews.com

@UlreyThisWeek