Anthony Johnson and Jordan Dotson have been household names on Fountain Avenue in Burlington Township for the past two years.
The duo are a key reason the Falcons’ football program has accumulated a 20-6 record since 2019. They’re also a key reason why Burlington Township’s basketball program finished with a 9-5 record a season ago and inserted itself into sectional title contention this winter.
“They’re tough kids,” Burlington Township coach Ryan Derry said. “I know Jordan’s been a (football) captain since he’s been a sophomore here and A.J.’s been one our best athletes in the school. They’ve played a lot of basketball together. (Burlington Township football) coach (Tom) Maderia does such a great job with them, football wise, and that’ll usually translate to the basketball court — mental toughness, especially. Those two are our two top dogs and they know that.”
Johnson, a 2021 South Jersey Sports Zone All-South Jersey First Team football selection, is a James Madison commit. He racked up 675 receiving yards and five touchdowns in 2021, in addition to hauling in four interceptions on defense.
He’s also the Falcons’ top returnee on the hardwood this winter.
Johnson averaged a team-high 15.0 points per game a season ago and scored a career-high 29 points in a 65-57 win over Pemberton. He concluded the campaign with three consecutive 20-plus point outings.
“I just keep the same mentality no matter what sport I’m playing,” Johnson said. “I want to thrive and be great no matter what I do. That’s how my leadership comes from football to basketball. I keep the same mentality.”
Dotson, a Harvard football commit, is a third-year starter that averaged 9.4 points per game last season. He scored a career-high 17 points in a 61-55 win over Bordentown and tallied double figures in eight different contests. The senior also charted minutes as a freshman on a team that finished 22-8 and fell to Wall, 53-47, in the Central Jersey Group 3 final in 2019. The experienced Dotson provides the Falcons with a formidable presence on the interior.
“It’s all about the mindset,” Dotson said. “I have the same mindset no matter what the sport is. I just want to be aggressive, (give) 100 percent effort and dominate whenever I can. I like a challenge. I think we just gotta keep working and keep bettering ourselves.”
Burlington Township also welcomes back junior guard Jordan Poole. Poole averaged 8.0 points per game a season ago and received an offer from Penn State – Greater Allegheny in November. 6-foot-7 senior forward Amar Lane (6.3 points per game) and senior Leland Williams (4.3 points per game) also return for the Falcons. Juniors Maurice Crump (7.1 points per game) and Alex Cygan (6.4 points per game) are returning players expected to contribute. Junior guard Jeton Brice also saw action in seven games last season.
“We return a lot of really good players,” Derry said. “We had one player graduate last year. The expectations are high. These kids expect a lot out of themselves. A lot of them are really good athletes that’ve been in big time football games or track events. I know these kids are talking about playing deep into March and that excites me.”
Prior to last year’s shortened season, Burlington Township finished with a 14-15 record and fell to Neptune, 44-42, in the Central Jersey Group 3 semifinals. The Falcons’ record wasn’t indicative of how battle-tested and tough they were, though. Derry’s squad navigated a daunting schedule that featured two bouts with Trenton Catholic, Camden Catholic, St. Thomas Aquinas, Timber Creek (NJSIAA Group 3 state finalist), Burlington City (NJSIAA Group 1 state finalist), a pair of bouts with Moorestown, Wildwood Catholic (NJSIAA Non-Public B state finalist), Paul VI and Haddonfield.
The Falcons will challenge themselves again this winter with non-conference matchups against Bishop Eustace, Haddonfield and Shawnee, among others.
Preparing for March is one of Derry’s biggest priorities.
“When my time’s up, I won’t care what my record says,” Derry said. “I just want my kids to play the toughest schedule possible every year. I want them to step on the court in March and say, ‘hey, we’ve seen TCA, we’ve seen Lenape, we’ve seen St. Augustine Prep, we’ve seen all these schools.’ I don’t want our kids to be shell shocked when it really matters in March.”
“This schedule this year is the same,” Derry added. “We’re in a couple showcase games, we play some parochial schools, we’ll travel a little bit. The schedule just prepares us for all that matters and that’s March and competing for a sectional championship.”
Burlington Township will move from Central Jersey Group 3 to South Jersey Group 3 this season. The Falcons are 5-2 in the playoffs since 2018-19 under the direction of Derry.
“South 3 is tough,” Derry said. “It doesn’t matter who you play — you have to beat everybody anyway.”
The Falcons open the season this Friday on the road against Bordentown. Burlington Township will be idle this weekend before traveling to Mount Holly to face Burlington County Scholastic League Liberty Division foe Rancocas Valley on December 20.
Derry’s Falcons plan to navigate their path to March one step at a time.
“We’re thinking about March, but we start up in one week,” Derry said. “We’re at Bordentown. We just talked about a one-step approach. We can’t get anywhere in March without taking care of December 17. We can’t get anywhere in March without taking care of December 20 right after that. It’s a one-game mentality with our kids. We understand it’s a marathon. We’ve made pretty good advances in March in the past (and) we understand that we need to make sure we take care of our business here in practices and games in December before we think about March.”
As for Johnson, there is only one thing that could make the season a success for him before he hops on I-95 en route to Harrisonburg, Virginia.
“We all want a ring,” Johnson said. “That’s our goal. Our motto is, ‘one team, one goal.’ During the season, we’re gonna take it one game at a time. That’s what we’re here for.”
As for Derry, his commitment to his job responsibilities stems from an obligation he feels necessary to fulfill.
That obligation is to continue to establish a winning culture and bring home a trophy for the Burlington Township community.
“Your culture is the most important thing about your program,” Derry said. “It’s not easy. It’s something you have to work at every single day. That shows up the most when it matters. I’m just so fortunate to be here. This school has such a proud tradition. I’m glad I’m the stakeholder and the groundskeeper for Burlington Township boys basketball. This means so much to so many people. Especially this community.”