At 6-foot-6 and between 275 and 280 pounds, the five-star Penn State football Class of 2023 commit has the size and strength to intimidate anyone he comes across.
But his coaches at Broad Run High School—located in Ashburn, Virginia— describe him as a pleasant, down-to-earth individual who gets along with everybody and with whom everybody gets along.
Then, on Virginia’s high school football fields, the pleasant becomes the punisher, and the down-to-earth turns into the dominator.
“He’s an easygoing, super nice kid,” Matt Griffis, Birchmeier’s head coach at Broad Run for his first three years, said. “But then when he gets between the lines, he wants to hurt you.”
“He puts football pads on, and he wants to break somebody in half,” Donny Smith, Birchmeier’s offensive line coach, said. “Every play. He wants to finish and put them through the floor.”
“On Friday nights,” Myron Curtis, an assistant under Griffis who is about to enter his first season as head coach, said. “He’s a monster.”
He started the first varsity game of his freshman year at right guard and never looked back.
Before the end of his freshman season, a point when many football players his age are still cutting their teeth Saturday mornings, Birchmeier already had offers from the University of Virginia and the University of Pittsburgh.
As a sophomore, he became a force.
“He was by far the best player on the field,” Smith, who played center at James Madison and West Virginia, said. “He was just picking dudes up and throwing them around like rag dolls.”
His performance as an underclassman earned him a scholarship to Penn State, where he committed last July.
So what does Birchmeier do that makes him a five-star recruit and the No. 1 ranked interior offensive lineman in his class (per 247Sports)?
His size and strength are certainly factors. He is, in the words of Broad Run wrestling coach Tanner Cooley, a “solid human.” Recently, when Birchmeier was helping Cooley move, Cooley says Birchmeier held a 500-pound shower door by himself for 30 seconds.
Birchmeier can also dominate defensive linemen in a way that might remind one of Michael Orr in “The Blind Side.”
“There have been plays where I’ve seen him literally block a kid, right hash, out of bounds to the left,” Griffis said. “That’s 34 yards, and I mean, the play is moving to the right and he is down blocking a kid and putting him on their sideline in front of the coach. It’s unreal.”
“You’ll probably go on somebody’s HUDL highlight reel,” Curtis said, “and the first two or three plays, you’ll see a really good pancake block or something like that. But I’m talking about consistently every single play. You really don’t even need to make it a highlight reel; you just need to watch the game because he’s doing the same thing over and over again. Just absolutely physically dominating these kids.”
Football isn’t the only sport where he dominates.
Because of the football team’s run to the state championship game in 2021, Birchmeier only got to be with the wrestling team for a month of the regular season.
After re-joining the team, all he did was win his second straight state championship. For Cooley, such a successful transition can be attributed to Birchmeier’s wrestling ability but also to how he takes care of himself.
“He knows how to exercise, he knows how to recover,” Cooley said. “Eats right. He sleeps right. He truly trains the way any coach would want their athlete to train.”
One thing offensive linemen and heavyweight wrestlers have in common is that both athletes need to use leverage to gain an advantage on their opponents. Cooley said that what Birchmeier does on the mat also shows what makes him such a force on the gridiron.
“It’s hard to describe what having good hips and good leverage looks like,” Cooley said. “It’s more of a feel thing. When you try to move someone around, especially inside a wrestling circle, if they are strong and have good hips, they control the center of the mat, and that’s kind of the way that Alex wrestles. He has the body position to maintain control of the center of the circle the whole time… that’s exactly what I think translates to football. When you have a d-lineman or an offensive lineman who is successful at wrestling, that’s what football coaches like to see.”
Birchmeier won’t be wrestling as a senior, Cooley says. The reason is obvious— he’s bound to be a DI football player. He’ll be going to Penn State in the winter, per Cooley, and barring a change of heart, he’ll finish his high school wrestling career with an 88-10 record.
EARLY, LOFTY COMPARISONS
Every year, America’s best high school football players are inevitably going to get compared to the best NFL players at their position.
It isn’t necessarily fair that kids who are still years away from being able to consume a Bud Light legally are compared with the best football players in the world, but that doesn’t stop it from happening.
Curtis compared Birchmeier with Philadelphia Eagles’ center Jason Kelce for his ability to finish a block.
247Sports compares him with former Notre Dame and current Indianapolis Colts guard Quenton Nelson, which Smith feels is accurate because of Birchmeier’s ability to pull.
“Our best run play is counter,” Smith said, “where Birch pulls and just destroys people.”
Smith’s highest comparison, however, was with an NFL Hall of Famer.
“He reminds me a lot of Alan Faneca,” Smith said, “because he’s pulling guys (while being) about 6’5″, and Alan Faneca wasn’t overly big. I mean, Birch is a big kid, but he’s not 330 pounds. Just nimble on his feet, can run around, is athletic and they both play guard.”
Birchmeier was the first player to commit to Penn State’s 2023 class. He shut down his recruitment back in February, and still has a year of high school football to go.
In the meantime, Smith shares a vision that coach James Franklin and Penn State fans eagerly await.
“It’s gonna be awesome to see him run out when Penn State has a White Out, and they just lay it on Iowa or whoever the hell else wants to come into their place, and then Birch just buries their ass in the ground,” Smith said.