Alex Desire leads Burlington Township against Lenape

Alex Desire, a 6-foot-5, 290-pound tackle from Burlington Township, has scholarship offers from schools including Dartmouth and Columbia.

Alex Desire is one of the biggest, strongest players in South Jersey football.

The 6-foot-5, 290-pound tackle from Burlington Township has 11 college scholarship offers.

And he’s a relative newcomer to the sport.

Desire, who will lead Burlington Township in Friday night’s showdown against West Jersey Football League Capitol Division rival Lenape, didn’t play much football before entering high school.

He wasn’t even sure the sport was for him during a freshman year in which he still leaned a little more toward basketball. But that spring, Burlington Township football coach Tom Maderia caught up with Desire in the weight room.

“I was lifting and Coach Maderia told me I had the potential to be a Division I football player,” Desire said. “Something like that, it never had even crossed my mind. I couldn’t believe it.

“It just made me want to work even harder to get the best out of my ability.”

Desire will play a key role in Friday night’s clash of Top 15 teams, according to Maderia.

Lenape (2-0), the No. 6 team in the Inquirer Top 25, is one of the area’s most physical teams. The Indians beat the Falcons, 20-3, last season, controlling the line of scrimmage.

“We got man-handled up front,” Maderia said of last year’s game at Lenape.

Burlington Township (2-0), the No. 14 team in the rankings, has an emerging quarterback in junior Dan Grozoski and explosive playmakers in juniors Justin Johnson and Omar Rogers, who have combined for three kick returns for touchdowns in the Falcons’ first two games (with another called back because of a penalty).

But the key for the Falcons against the Indians likely will be the play of the linemen, according to Maderia.

And the coach said Desire might be asked to double his workload.

“Alex hasn’t taken a snap on defense yet this year,” Maderia said. “But we might need him to play some defense against those guys. They are so big and strong.

“It’s going to be a major challenge for our guys.”

Desire said he was looking forward to playing both ways although he prefers offense.

“Whatever the teams needs,” Desire said. “We know it’s going to be a tough fight up front.”

Desire played football just one year before high school, as a seventh grader.

“My parents didn’t want me to play,” he said. “Every year I would ask them to sign me up and they would be like, ‘No. You’re not doing it.’

“I played in seventh grade and then the next year they were like, ‘Why not stick to basketball?’ ”

Desire played both sports as a freshman but gradually developed into a football star. A top student, he has offers from colleges such as Dartmouth, Columbia, Bucknell, Fordham, Holy Cross, and Towson, among others.

“I don’t know if he’s a Big Ten player, but he’s a great kid who works hard and has a chance to get better and better,” Maderia said. “I tell the coaches who are recruiting him, ‘You don’t have to worry about this kid. He’s going to go to class. He’s going to be a credit to your program.’ ”

Game at a glance

Lenape (2-0) at Burlington Township (2-0), Friday at 7.

Rankings: Lenape is No. 6 in the Inquirer Top 25 and Burlington Township is No. 14.

Division race: The winner will seize the high ground in the race for the WJFL Capitol Division title, with No. 8 Rancocas Valley also in the mix

Last season: Lenape beat Burlington Township, 20-3.

Lenape players to watch: Senior quarterback Matt LaJoie has passed for 193 yards and three touchdowns, senior wide receiver Jake Topolski is averaging 18.1 yards per catch with two touchdowns, and senior running back JoJo Kellum has rushed for four touchdowns.

Key matchup: Can Burlington Township’s front lines, led by senior tackle Alex Desire, hold up against Lenape’s physical front led by senior two-way standout Aaron Acosta?

Fast fact: Lenape has allowed one touchdown or less 25 times since the start of the 2014 season.

Pick: Lenape, 17-10.

By the numbers

27 — Games in a row won by No. 5 St. Augustine Prep vs. South Jersey teams entering Friday night’s showdown with No. 2 Millville.

20.9 — Yards per catch for Shawnee senior wide receiver Daevon Robinson (209 yards on 10 catches).

70.4 — Completion percentage for Rancocas Valley junior quarterback Bryce Mangene (19 for 27 for 292 yards).

3 — Touchdown passes last Friday by Sterling senior quarterback C.J. Barrett in 21-0 win over Cinnaminson.

51 — Points scored by Triton in the final three quarters last Friday’s in 51-40 win over Pennsauken. The Mustangs trailed 13-0 after one quarter.