The Canal Winchester High School football team's top tackler also might have the most level head on the defense.

"Darren is nothing less than an animal," senior defensive end Angelo Hubbard said of junior middle linebacker Darren Davis. "He is definitely the voice of reason when everybody is a hothead during the game. He's the guy who keeps everybody calm and reminds us just to do our jobs."

Davis, who is 5-foot-10, 185 pounds, has a team-high 102 tackles as Canal Winchester is in contention for its first playoff berth since 2012. The Indians are 4-4 overall and 1-2 in the OCC-Capital Division entering a home game against Newark on Friday, Oct. 20.

Among the anchors of the Indians' 3-3 stack defense, Davis and Hubbard were tied for the team lead in solo tackles through seven games with 58. Davis had three sacks and 10 tackles for loss, while Hubbard had 83 tackles and led the team in sacks (6) and tackles for loss (25).

"They are both very, very talented players," defensive coordinator Corey Coe said. "It's a development process. His sophomore year, Angelo could barely get in a stance. He hadn't played since sixth- or seventh-grade and he needed that development. I don't think I've coached a player who has his motor. When those lights turn on, he's an animal. We tell him he is the motor of our defense. He needs to set the tone for us.

"If you watch Darren's film, he is a technician as well. He buys in to the way we tackle. He does it all right. His eyes are where they should be. He has great leverage and he finishes."

Hubbard, who is 6-2, 215 pounds, already has surpassed his 75 tackles and four sacks from a year ago. He said he put on about 25 pounds of muscle during first-year coach Josh Stratton's rigorous offseason program.

"I definitely got smarter as the (2016) season went on," Hubbard said. "As I got more reps, I started seeing more trends and how people play and how I can take advantage. I am definitely playing harder and now there's less fatigue. In the offseason, coach had us running all day."

Davis, who had 62 tackles as a sophomore and also rushed for 400 yards on 59 carries, said Hubbard plays bigger than his size.

"Angelo's a monster," Davis said. "Once he gets going ... 'Ang' is unstoppable. People think defensive linemen are big and slow. Not him. He's only 215 pounds, but he plays big."

Davis said the keys to his improvement have been the experience he gained the past two seasons, when Canal Winchester went a combined 5-15, and a simplified approach for the entire defense.

"We've really 'dumbed it down' in everything," Davis said. "Last year, we ran a 4-2-5 and this year we have a 3-3 stack. I like this better because we have athletes like Dom (Davis) and Davon (Wilson) at safety who can run around. Against a wing-T (offense), we can put more guys in the box. I put our lineup against anybody's. When Angelo gets started, he makes everybody's else job so much easier."

On top of his defensive duties, Davis accounted for all three of Canal Winchester's touchdowns in a 20-19 loss at Franklin Heights on Oct. 13. He had two 1-yard scoring runs and a 56-yard punt return for a score to stake the Indians to a 19-7 lead, but they allowed 13 unanswered points in the second half.

That meant Canal Winchester was projected to be 10th in the Division II, Region 7 computer ratings this week. The top eight teams make the playoffs.

Newark is 1-7 overall and 1-2 in the league after a 14-0 victory over winless Groveport on Oct. 13. D'ante Woods rushed for 176 yards and a touchdown on 42 carries to become the Wildcats' all-time leading rusher.

The Indians hope this game provides a chance to atone for last week and solidify their playoff standing with two weeks left in the regular season.

"We have turned a page and changed the culture," Hubbard said. "It's not a new team, but we have a new energy in every aspect -- on the field, in practice, off the field. A lot of people around town are talking about football."

dpurpura@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekDave