Alex Birchmeier’s ‘Sudden’ Journey To The Top Of Penn State Football’s Class Of 2023

Penn State football Class of 2023 four-star commit Alex Birchmeier has been destined for Division I college football. Still, he may have been one of the last to realize it.

“I didn’t know when I was that young if I was even going to play football in college,” Birchmeier told Onward State. “It all happened so suddenly.”

At 6’5″, 280 pounds, it’s hard to find many high school players that physically match up with Birchmeier. Even as an 8-year-old, Birchmeier found himself in the trenches of offensive line play because of his little league’s size limit for ball carriers.

As a result, Birchmeier has spent his young career bulldozing his way to a No. 1 position ranking and a full-ride scholarship to Penn State, which he committed to in July 2021.

With a dad who played Division I football at Ohio University and a brother who wrestles for Navy, Birchmeier has been surrounded by sports all his life. But, his first personal exposure didn’t come through football. It came through wrestling.

Sam Fremin | Onward State

Birchmeier started wrestling when he was six years old, but with his impending early enrollment in January 2023, this winter will be the first time in 12 years he doesn’t spend a season on the mat. Though he always saw wrestling as more of a “hobby,” the soon-to-be Nittany Lion described the secondary sport as crucial to his ongoing maturation and development.

“It helps mentally because you can’t blame anything on anyone else,” Birchmeier said.

When Birchmeier was a freshman, he lost in Virginia’s wrestling state semifinal. The ordeal gave him firsthand experience in overcoming roadblocks — and some extra fuel to drive two consecutive successful state championship campaigns.

“I think learning how to lose is a great thing,” Birchmeier said. “You can kinda teach yourself how to deal with that and how to bounce back — how to respect yourself and not take it out on everything.”

Although Birchmeier was sure to find sources of growth in his losses, that doesn’t mean he was unaware. When asked if he ever wrestled with his brother John, the three-and-a-half-year younger brother quickly said no.

“He would kill me in a normal wrestling match. I try not to anger him too much,” Birchmeier said, smiling. “I’d like to think I’m the better football player.”

“He was pretty good, though,” Birchmeier diplomatically added.

Despite the team’s historic success and the persistent pleas of devoted fans on social media, Birchmeier never seriously considered wrestling at Penn State.

“I really knew I was never going to be good enough to wrestle at Penn State, so I didn’t even try,” Birchmeier said with a laugh. “Maybe if I wrestled in the offseason, it would change. But, I mean, I was never that focused on wrestling.”

Birchmeier suspects it’s only a matter of time before he crosses paths with people within the Penn State wrestling program. In fact, it’s one part of his college experience he’s already excited about.

“It’s really cool that I’m going to a school that has great wrestling because obviously I’m gonna be interested in that,” Birchmeier said. “I wouldn’t mind going to watch wrestling every once in a while, especially some good wrestling.”

Sam Fremin | Onward State

Wrestling actually impacted Birchmeier’s first recruiting meeting with Penn State. Before the Nittany Lions made an offer, members of the coaching staff traveled to Broad Run High School in Ashburn, Virginia, to meet with the high school prospect.

The problem? He wasn’t there.

“They were planning to come to the school to talk to me before I had an offer, but the day they came I was gone at a tournament,” Birchmeier said. “I remember I was like so disappointed. I was like ‘Damn. That was my chance. It’s a huge school.’ Obviously, I’m kind of interested in them before they started recruiting me.”

The schedule conflict only delayed the inevitable, as a couple of weeks later, Penn State offered Birchmeier his fourth Division I offer as a freshman.

“It was very surreal,” Birchmeier said. “Obviously, schools had reached out to me, but nothing in my head really clicked yet. I didn’t realize how special that was — that I had interest from schools that young.”

Since committing to Penn State, Birchmeier’s relationships with coaches and players have only grown. When he’s not working out with current offensive line starter Landon Tengwall, Birchmeier is on the phone or meeting up with head coach James Franklin and offensive line coach Phil Trautwein, who began recruiting Birchmeier immediately upon arrival in Happy Valley.

“Coach Franklin does a great job with everything, especially building relationships. You can’t really pass that up, especially with Coach Franklin being locked in for the next 10 years,” Birchmeier said. “I think that really solidifies in some kids like, ‘Okay, he’s gonna stay there. He’s not gonna leave me. I really trust this guy.'”

Though he feels bittersweet about moving away from his family, friends, and lifetime hometown, Birchmeier is ready to jump to the next level.

“It’s gonna be very different comparing playing this year and next year at Penn State,” Birchmeier said. “I’m not saying I’m ready for it, but I’m open to kinda getting beat up a little bit.”

Birchmeier spoke with Onward State just hours before his team’s matchup against Lightridge High School, where fellow 2023 Penn State commit Anthony Donkoh attends. Penn State’s recruiting class stays in daily contact with one another and with multiple currently playing for Virginia high schools, trash talk naturally arises.

Sam Fremin | Onward State

“Honestly, during this week, me and Donkoh went at it a bit. Other than that, we’re pretty friendly to each other, but we do like a good competition,” Birchmeier said. “If I’m on the field against anybody, they’re my enemy, so I don’t see him as a teammate tonight. But after, we’re friends off the field.”

During the game, the talent gap between the Penn State commits and the rest of the players was pretty apparent.

Both Birchmeier and Donkoh played two-way for their respective teams, with Birchmeier lining up at guard, tackle, defensive end, tight end, fullback, and even slot receiver for a snap. In the hotly contested regional matchup, the pair of Nittany Lion commits made quick work of their men.

“Doing the same thing to a kid over and over every play? That’s pretty fun to me honestly,” Birchmeier said. “Moving somebody from point A to point B. That’s my job right now. I gotta love doing it.”

Birchmeier’s Broad Run finished with a 25-21 victory over Donkoh’s Lightridge in a game that came down to the final drive. After the game, the high school seniors returned to being teammates, shaking hands at midfield.

Sam Fremin | Onward State

When he joins his other Penn State teammates in January, Birchmeier could play at any number of positions.

“At this point, Coach Trautwein…doesn’t know what position I could play. He thinks I could play all five positions at the moment,” Birchmeier said. “My goal is just whatever the coaches need from me, so I can get on the field as fast as possible.”

Birchmeier’s versatility is part of why he’s earned such high acclaim, even drawing comparisons to first-round NFL Draft picks Quenton Nelson and Brandon Scherff. Though ultimately, Birchmeier is intent on blocking out the outside noise — more concerned with his position among teammates than his position on the gridiron.

“I definitely want to be remembered as somebody that was a team player… I want to be a solid person that just nobody has any bad feelings about,” Birchmeier said. “I want to build relationships with everybody on the team — young guys when I’m older and older guys when I’m young.”

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About the Author

Sam Fremin

Sam is a senior from Ashburn, Virginia, majoring in journalism and political science & minoring in German and creative writing. He is a Dallas Cowboys fan who relishes the misery of Eagles fans. All hate messages can be sent to [email protected] or @SamFremin on Twitter.

He may or may not read every single comment he gets.

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