As the Westerville Central High School football team pushes toward a postseason berth, an imposing figure on the defensive line is helping to lead the way.
Dontay Hunter II is winding down a strong two-year career with the Warhawks, who play host to Olentangy on Friday, Oct. 26, in the regular-season finale.
Central improved to 5-4 overall and 2-2 in the OCC-Buckeye Division with a 35-23 win at Westerville South on Oct. 18. The Warhawks were projected to be sixth in Division I, Region 2 this week, and the top eight teams qualify for the playoffs.
The 6-foot-5, 240-pound Hunter is driving a defense that has steadily improved since a 52-7 loss to Pickerington North on Sept. 14. The Warhawks have allowed an average of just 15.8 points over the last five games.
"I want to see us make it to the playoffs and win all five games," Hunter said. "That's what I want and I think we can do it."
The win over the Wildcats marked the sixth consecutive season in which Central has swept community rivals South and North. The Warhawks beat North 48-12 on Oct. 5.
"It's the best feeling ever knowing that you 'ruled the 'Ville' for so long," Hunter said.
Hunter's play has made him a highly sought-after recruit, and he estimates more than 10 Division I college programs have made offers. On June 17, he committed to Purdue.
"It wasn't a tough decision," Hunter said. "Purdue really stood out from the rest of the schools that offered me. Academically, they're an amazing school. A degree from Purdue really sets you up strong because I'm looking for the next 10 years of my life and not just football."
The Warhawks' success on defense has happened as opponents use double- and triple-team blocking schemes on Hunter, who has been getting plenty of help from teammates.
Hunter has 64 tackles and five sacks and leads the Warhawks with 19 tackles for loss. Other top contributors through eight games included defensive back Rickey Hyatt (77 tackles) and linebackers Zeke Healy (76), Nathan Lawrence (60) and Nick Francescone (60).
"Every offensive coordinator is going to try to figure out a way to not let Dontay beat them," coach Brent Morrison said. "We've seen some interesting things from offenses against him. Obviously, it frustrates Dontay because he wants to be in there making tackles, but he also understands that if he's taking on more than one blocker or he's being run away from the entire night it's an opportunity for someone else to step up."
Hunter played at DeSales, a Division III program, in his first two seasons. Then as a junior at Central, he earned second-team all-league honors after finishing the season with 45 tackles.
Hunter said his family moving closer to Central and also his desire to play at the Division I level in high school played roles in his decision to transfer.
"He came in and obviously he's a physically gifted kid, but he came in with a great work ethic and immediately was part of the team like he had been here forever," Morrison said. "He worked his butt off and earned a starting spot right away."
Hunter said his interest to play in college began during his sophomore year when Kentucky was the first school to make an offer.
"That's when I was like football is what I want to do," he said.
Hunter will continue Central's run of sending players to the next level. Morrison said there currently are 13 former Warhawks competing at the collegiate level, and Central graduate Nick Vannett is a tight end for the Seattle Seahawks.
"There are some in Division I, II (and) III, so that's definitely something that we take a lot of pride in," Morrison said.
Hunter also is considering playing for the Central boys basketball team again this winter.
The game against Olentangy will mark the return of former Central coach John Magistro, who is in his first season as an assistant with the Braves.
Magistro coached the Warhawks for nine seasons, compiling a 61-37 record. He was named an OCC Coach of the Year three times and shared state Coach of the Year honors in 2011 with Findlay's Mark Ritzler.
Magistro is one of three former Central coaches on the Olentangy staff, joining Jeremy Chirpas and Dave Dunkelberger. Chirpas, who is Magistro's son-in-law, is coaching the defensive line and Dunkelberger works with defensive backs.
"We really haven't talked much this season," said Morrison, who was an assistant under Magistro. "We both knew that the Week 10 matchup was coming. We are very thankful for all the things that those guys did for us and there's no ill will towards them whatsoever, but it makes this game a little bit more exciting."