Westlake junior is Hunt-ed not Hunt-er

WESTLAKE VILLAGE -- Line up Dashon Hunt at running back, put the football in his trusty hands, and he is more than capable of gaining the necessary yardage on the ground to keep the chains moving. Straight up the middle, or to the outside, it doesn't matter.

Slot the junior from Westlake at receiver and Hunt might run by the defense en route to the end zone. Position him in the slot and he is not afraid to risk his body going over the crowded middle to make the difficult catch against teams geared toward stopping him.

Hunt's effectiveness isn’t merely limited to life on the offensive side of the ball. Stick him on an island at cornerback, and odds are, he will lock down the opponents top pass-catcher. Allow him to roam free in the secondary at safety and don't be surprised to see Hunt deliver a game-changing hit. Forcing a fumble is always a distinct possibility.

He is a jack-of-all-trades, Hunt plays a number of positions, each of them equally well. And we haven't started to discuss the special teams impact he makes.

His versatility and ability to excel in most any situation, of course, is what separates Hunt from most his underclassmen peers. Furthermore, the well-rounded skill set he possesses has been instrumental in helping guide the Warriors into Saturday night's CIF State Bowl game, an Open Division showdown against Concord De Le Salle at the Home Depot Center.

“Dashon is a darn good football player, a force to be reckon with, and we're glad he is on our side,'' Westlake coach Jim Benkert said. “He is an individual who can change the complexion of a game with one play, at any time and from any spot on the field.''

Hunt proved as much in the Southern Section Northern Division championship game last week against rival Westlake Village Oaks Christian. The 5-foot-9, 175-plus pound UCLA commit rushed for a team-high 154 yards in 24 carries and scored four times.

As if that weren't enough, Hunt was assigned to shadow Lions' senior receiver Jordan Payton, one of the premier prospects the Southland has to offer. Hunt finished with four tackles and an interception return for a touchdown in an all-important 49-42 victory for Westlake (14-0 overall), which has held the No. 1 spot in the ESPNLosAngeles.com rankings for several weeks.

“I'm always up for a challenge. Always have been. Always will be,'' Hunt said. “I've seen all kinds of things this season, on offense and on defense. Coaches and players know that I'm a good athlete. I'm not sure if they are intimidated by my play-making ability or what.''

“When I'm running the ball, most teams blitz or try to stack the box with seven or eight guys. I've seen some double teams when I'm running pass routes too. On defense, teams don't usually throw to my side of the field. All that stuff is a respect thing, I think.''

The so-called respect he speaks of is something that did not happen overnight. Hunt had to earn his share of playing time as a sophomore on a senior-laden team. He ended up making his mark at the midway point and has been on the fast track since.

This time around, Hunt emerged as the go-to-guy for the Warriors. He has rushed for 1,231 yards in 119 carries, an average of more than 10 yards a carry, this season. Throw in 18 touchdowns on the ground and you have all the makings of a featured back.

A multipurpose threat, Hunt has averaged 11 yards per receptions as well. Can't forget to mention his 23 yards per punt return and 27 yards on kickoff returns.

“When we needed a big play, I looked for Dashon and he delivered,'' Warriors junior quarterback Justin Moore said. “It's nice knowing that you have someone to count on. He is a threat to score every time he touches the ball. He causes problems for the other team.''

For as well as Hunt has done on the offensive side of the ball, he has been equally effective on defense. Perhaps more so. Averaging close to five tackles per game is a good indication of his value. Hunt also has six interceptions, to go along with 10 pass deflections.

He rarely, if ever, comes off the field to sit on the sideline.

“Dashon is one of the best in the business,'' said Warriors senior defensive lineman Justin Solis, who has committed to Colorado. “He does so much for our team. It seems like he makes a play all of the time. Honestly, I don't know where you would be without him.''

Division I college coaches and scouts have been keeping close tabs on Hunt for quite a while now. He projects to play defensive back at the next level and committed to UCLA in August. That well-known fact, however, has not stopped fellow Pac-12 Conference schools from attempting to recruit him. He also has a scholarship offer from Washington.

Considering the Bruins recently hired Jim L. Mora as their new coach after firing Rick Neuheisel, the growing interest in Hunt does not come as a major shock.

“The situation at UCLA does not change any of my plans, I still think that the Bruins are a good rising program,'' Hunt said. “I haven't touched base with any of the new coaching staff yet. But honestly, I'm not really looking at that kind of stuff. I'm not stressed about things. I'm worried about our next game and my senior year after that. College can wait for me.''

In the meantime, Hunt figures to be focused on De La Salle (12-1 overall) and the title game Saturday in Carson. All signs points to him being the difference between winning and losing for the Warriors. He will, after all, be involved in most every facet of the game plan.

“He has all the tools you look for in a football player and a lot of confidence,'' Benkert said. “Best thing about Dashon is he is young and I have him for one more game this season. One more year too. That, right there, is enough to put a big smile on my face.''

The same thing can't be said by Hunt's opponents.

Sean Ceglinsky covers preps for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.