When Jon Vega was in eighth grade, he tried football for the first time.

"They made me a running back at first," Vega recalled. "But I didn't know how to hold the football."

Vega moved to Hammonton from Puerto Rico as a seventh-grader. The next year, he decided to try out for the youth football team because it seemed like such a popular sport in the town.

He was fast. He was athletic. But he was a little short of know-how.

"I had no idea how to play," Vega said. "But I liked it. I liked it right away. And I kept getting better and better."

Now a senior at Hammonton High School, Vega has developed into one of the top two-way linemen in South Jersey.

The 6-foot, 230-pound two-way tackle is a leader for a team that looms as a serious contender in both the West Jersey Football League American Division race and South Jersey Group 4 playoff race.

"He's got such a high motor," Hammonton coach Jim Raso said of Vega. "He doesn't let up. He goes and goes."

Vega is a three-year starter for the Blue Devils. He focused mostly on defense as a sophomore but started on both sides of the football in 2015, when Hammonton went 9-2 and won the WJFL National Division title.

"He hasn't really played that much, so I think his best football is ahead of him," Raso said.

With a strong returning corp of seniors that includes Vega and dual-threat quarterback Malachi Winters - who has a scholarship offer from Army - as well as lineman Chris Matro, wide receiver/defensive back Victor Solis-Mays and running back/linebacker Daniel Figueroa, Hammonton projects as one of South Jersey's top teams.

The Blue Devils open the season Sept. 9 at new division rival Washington Township.

"We're capable of a lot," Vega said. "We can go far."

Raso said Vega is one of the Blue Devils' most popular players.

"Outside of football, he's just a great kid with a great personality," Raso said. "He's such a big-hearted kid."

Vega said there was no place for him to play organized football in Puerto Rico. He said he played volleyball and some other sports.

"Once I got here, I saw all the excitement around football," Vega said. "I wanted to be part of it. When they put me on the line, I knocked the center back into the quarterback. It was the best feeling.

"I knew this was the sport for me."

Vega said football has helped him make friends and adjust to living in the United States.

"This team, it's like a family," Vega said. "We're all together, all there for each other. The coaches, the players, they all support each other."