Last Updated: Thu Sep 28, 2023 - 1:53PM
For decades, the Southmoreland football program was known for its futility. The Scotties had a playoff drought that spanned nearly 40 years, the longest of any team in the WPIAL. For that reason, the 2019 season will always be fondly remembered as the year the Scotties ended the streak and returned to the postseason. One of the key players on that team was QB Zach Cernuto. Now a tight end at Washington & Jefferson, Cernuto continues to make a big impact on the gridiron. He’s under the microscope in this edition of the Westmoreland Alum Q&A.
As a freshman at Southmoreland in 2017, Cernuto earned playing time, contributing seven receptions for 75 yards. He also saw limited snaps at quarterback, hitting 2-of-3 attempts for 30 yards. The Scotties endured a tough campaign, however, going 0-9 overall, including 0-7 in the conference.
The following season, Cernuto became the starting QB, completing 129-of-255 passes for 1,909 yards, with 19 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. He also posted four touchdowns on the ground. Collectively, Southmoreland made major strides, improving to 4-6 overall, including 2-5 in the conference, but still failed to make the playoffs.
That changed in 2019, though, with Cernuto serving as one of the catalysts. He went 126-for-235 for 1,792 yards, with 15 touchdowns and 18 interceptions. He added 82 rushing attempts for 171 yards, scoring a pair of TDs. The Scotties went 5-5 overall, including 4-3 in the conference, qualifying for the WPIAL Class 2A playoffs. Southmoreland’s season ended with a loss to Avonworth in the opening round, however.
In Cernuto’s senior campaign, he hit on 78-of-138 attempts for 1,066 yards, with 10 touchdowns and three picks. He also paced the Scotties on the ground, compiling 75 rushes for 235 yards and one touchdown. In a COVID-abbreviated season, Southmoreland went 3-3 overall, but missed the postseason after posting a 2-3 mark in the conference.
During his career at Southmoreland, Cernuto established the Scotties’ record for career passing with 4,797 yards, and he was a three-time All-Conference honoree.
Following his graduation, he matriculated to Washington & Jefferson College, joining the Presidents as a tight end in the 2021 season. He redshirted that year, as W&J posted a mark of 8-3 overall, including 7-2 in the Presidents’ Athletic Conference (PAC).
Last year, Cernuto developed into a multi-faceted weapon offensively, as he played in all 11 games. In that action, he rushed 14 times for 76 yards, scoring four touchdowns, and caught 10 passes for 67 yards and three scores. He also returned three kickoffs for 35 yards and a punt for three yards. The Presidents remained a powerhouse program, as they went 9-2, including 6-2 in conference play. Washington & Jefferson qualified for the ECAC Asa S. Bushnell Bowl, and bested Hobart to conclude the season.
This year, Cernuto has appeared in all four games, posting eight carries for 24 yards and four TDs, as well as five receptions for 49 yards and another score. To this point, the Presidents are unblemished, with all four wins coming in PAC action.
Zach took time from his schedule to answer questions about his transition from quarterback to tight end, the college football rule he’d change, and which teammate he’d choose to be stranded with on an island.
Q: Although you are listed as a tight end, you have made a considerable impact as a rusher. How have you excelled in your role?
A: The success in this role has to go to the offensive line and the guys blocking. They do a great job, which makes holes, and I've just got to run hard.
Q: What were the biggest adjustments to your position after playing QB in high school?
A: I think the biggest adjustment from quarterback to tight end is the blocking aspect. I never really blocked before, and it was a big adjustment at first, and I'm still trying to improve in that aspect of my game. Also, running routes and catching the ball has been something I've had to adjust to.
Q: What is an underrated aspect of your game?
A: I think an underrated aspect of my game is being coachable. My coaches have helped me improve since I was a freshman and started playing tight end. I feel like I'm able to adjust and improve in spots that I'm not the best at or am struggling with.
Q: W&J has dominated the first three games of this season. What have been the biggest keys to that success?
A: Our success has been a whole team effort in all three phases of the game. Defense has been dominant, and they always give our team a chance to win. On offense, we've returned a lot of our guys from last year, and we have worked hard throughout the offseason and during camp. We're starting to put everything together on offense and we've executed well. Also, our coaches put us in great situations to succeed and come up with great game plans every week.
Q: What team and individual goals have you set for 2023?
A: As a team, our first goal is to go 1-0 every week, no matter who we play. Playing off that, we have a goal to win the PAC and make a deep playoff run. For myself, my goal is to help the team in any way possible. Another goal is to be All-PAC player.
Q: What are the best qualities of your head coach, Mike Sirianni?
A: Coach Sirianni is a great coach and has a lot of great qualities. I'd say his honesty is one of his best qualities. He will tell you like it is and exactly what you need to do to get better. He is a great leader who knows how to get the team motivated for every game. Also, his commitment to this program is undeniable, and he has great pride in this team.
Q: What led to your decision to attend W&J?
A: A reason why I chose W&J is because of Coach Sirianni. I felt that he would put me in the best situation to succeed. Another reason is the great academics. The school has a reputation and will lead to great opportunities. The alumni speak very highly of W&J, and had nothing bad to say about their experience.
Q: What is your major and ideal future profession?
A: I am majoring in psychology and minoring in biology. I look to get into physical therapy school and become a physical therapist when I graduate W&J.
Q: What has been your most enjoyable college course?
A: My favorite class so far has been foundations in organismal biology.
Q: What was your fondest memory during your time at Southmoreland?
A: My favorite memory at Southmoreland has to be making the playoffs my junior year to break the longest playoff drought in the WPIAL. Being a part of that team to do something that wasn't done in a very long time was very special.
Q: Do you still follow the Scotties or WPIAL football?
A: Yes, I still follow the Scotties. I haven't been able to make it to a game yet, but I follow the scores every Friday. I also follow along with a lot of WPIAL games and look forward to seeing the outcomes of those games.
Q: If you could change one rule about college football, what would it be? Why?
A: I think it’s a bad rule that if you fair catch a kickoff outside of the end zone (like at the 5 or 10-yard line), you get the ball at the 25 like a touchback. A fair catch is meant to be the team gets the ball where the ball is caught. It shouldn't be moved up just because it's a kickoff.
Q: Who is your celebrity dream date?
A: My celebrity dream date would probably be Madelyn Cline.
Q: Do you prefer Twitter (X), Snapchat, Instagram, TikTok, or something else on social media?
A: I prefer Twitter because it's a way I get a lot of news about football and other sports.
Q: If you were stranded on an island with one teammate, who would you choose? Why?
A: I think I'd probably choose Seth Kuhns. I've known him since we played midget football together. He's also pretty handy, clever, and he's one of the funniest guys on the team.