His first varsity start was the opening game of his freshman season on Sept. 7, 2012.

"Kingsway," Shawnee senior David Gajderowicz recalled the other day. "They were big. I was really, really nervous."

Gajderowicz was a 14-year-old, thrust into the starting lineup of one of South Jersey's strongest programs.

More than that, he was a defensive lineman.

"That almost never happens," Shawnee coach Tim Gushue said. "You see it sometimes with wide receiver/running back types. Defensive line is something different. But physically, he was ready."

Gajderowicz will complete a remarkable run Sunday in the South Jersey Group 4 championship game against Timber Creek at Rowan University.

The 6-foot, 230-pound athlete will become just the second Shawnee player to start every game of his four-year career in Gushue's 33 seasons.

The first was running back/linebacker Anthony DiOrio, who led the 2013 team to the sectional title.

"I'm so lucky," Gajderowicz said the other day during a break in a Shawnee practice at an indoor facility because of heavy rain. "I never thought anything like that was possible, especially since I never really played football when I was younger."

Gajderowicz didn't play his first football game until he was in eighth grade. Before that, he had focused mainly on track.

"I told my dad, 'Hey, I think I want to try football,' " Gajderowicz said. "I had a knack for it."

A little more than a year after putting on pads for the first time, Gajderowicz was in the starting lineup for Shawnee.

"It was the experience of a lifetime," Gajderowicz said of starting the opening game of his freshman year. "Kingsway had that great running back who is at Old Dominion now [Ray Lawry]. But we held him down pretty good.

"I was lucky because the seniors let me in. I thought they might try to push me aside, but they mentored me."

Gajderowicz has made steady improvement during his career, according to Gushue.

"He plays with great leverage and he can really run," Gushue said. "The big thing is that he's so resilient. He gets hit from so many different angles.

"I remember a game at the end of his freshman year against Lenape, he was beat up. He really took a beating that day from some bigger guys. But he hung in there.

"For him to play every game of his career as a defensive lineman, it really says something."

Gajderowicz isn't physically imposing for a defensive lineman. He said he relies more on quickness, leverage and instincts honed from four years in the trenches.

"It's like a chess match in there, that's what I love about it," Gajderowicz said. "I've learned so many little things through the years. I'm worlds better than I was as a freshman."

Gajderowicz hopes to play football in college and Gushue believes the Renegades' veteran defensive lineman will be heavily recruited by NCAA Division II and Division III programs, most of which likely will project him as an outside linebacker who can rush the passer but also cover.

"That's going to work out," Gushue said.

From a starting standpoint, Gajderowicz has fashioned a longer career than any of the current Renegades, as well as the overwhelming majority of the seniors who will play their final game this week.

Gajderowicz will start his 47th game Sunday night. In his four seasons, Shawnee has gone 35-11, including a 9-1 mark in South Jersey Group 4 tournament games.

Gajderowicz was on the field for Shawnee's victories over Timber Creek in the sectional title games in 2013 and 2014.

He would like nothing better than to make the last game of his long career his most memorable.

"It really hasn't hit me yet that this is the last game of my high school career," Gajderowicz said. "It probably will when I go out there and realize, 'This is it.' "

@PhilAnastasia

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