LONG BRANCH – Kevin Cerruti insisted there was no way he could have envisioned making the kind of game-changing play he did on Friday night to help Long Branch repeat as NJSIAA Central Jersey Group 4 champions. A big tackle for loss or a sack? Sure. An interception return for a touchdown? That’s a different story.

“There’s no way I would have ever predicted this,” Cerruti said. “I would have assumed the big play would have been Jermaine (Corbett) running in a game-winning touchdown or something. It’s surreal and I’m still in shock. It’s honestly the greatest thing I’ve ever felt in my life.”

Cerruti’s 3-yard interception return for a touchdown early in the third quarter swung the game in Long Branch’s favor as the Green Wave defeated Brick, 21-14, to repeat as state champions. Defensive lineman Imir Durant tipped a screen pass and Cerruti was there to secure the ball and rumble into the end zone for a play that got Bresett Stadium rocking. Long Branch would add another touchdown and hold on for the seven-point win to give the Wave back-to-back sectional titles for the first time in playoff history.

“Before the game started we were talking and Kevin was like, ‘Imagine what it feels like to score a touchdown (as a lineman),'” said senior Marc Dennis. “He scored a touchdown and I thought he was gonna run and jump into the bleachers. I’ve never seen Kevin Cerruti get that happy. I had to calm him down. Just seeing that play I was like, ‘Wow. That’s a Division 1 player right there.'”

“It’s crazy because on that exact play in practice he caught a pick this week and took it in for a touchdown,” said senior linebacker Luke Arnold. “That happening in the game was crazy.”

“It was the turning point of the game and it couldn’t happen to a better, harder-working kid,” said Long Branch head coach Dan George. “He just keeps hammering and hammering, and he’s been that way for us every single game this year.”

When Cerruti made the biggest play of his career and when, after the game, friends and fans lined up to take pictures with the star two-way lineman, a proud father was looking down from above at the great young man his son has become.

Kevin Cerruti lost his father, also named Kevin, to a heart attack when he was just 12 years old. Since then, the youngest of three siblings has tried to honor his late father with his play on the field, his work in the classroom and his overall approach to life.

“He actually never really wanted me playing football; he didn’t want me getting hurt. But I know somewhere up there he’s proud of me,” Cerruti said. “Everything I do is for him. I want to be successful because of him. I want to go to college, I want to graduate, I want to have a very successful future just to make him proud. I think about him before every single game.”

Photo by Richard O'Donnell.

“He has a great support group at home with his mom and his stepdad, and what he’s done has been really special,” George said.

Long Branch has a senior-laden roster, and Cerruti is unquestionably one of the team’s leaders. At 6-foot-3 and 285 pounds, Cerruti has an obvious physical presence on both sides of the ball. He is the top offensive lineman for a team that has rushed for 2,720 yards, including 1,783 by Corbett. On defense, he has a pair of sacks and Friday’s huge pick-six. What he brings to the Green Wave goes way beyond his size, strength and stats, however.

"He means everything to us,” Arnold said.  “He’s big, but we call him our gentle giant. Everybody loves him.”

“He’s the biggest, most physical, most athletic guy I’ve ever coached,” George said. “He has a tremendous motor and he never stops. He plays the entire game. Every once in a while, we take him out and I’m yelling, ‘Where is Kevin! Get him back out there!’ He’s a straight-A student who does everything right, and it’s great when it’s those kinds of kids who get the accolades.”

Losing his father at a fundamental period of his life forced Cerruti to mature quicker than kids his age. Arnold has been friends with Cerruti since seventh grade and has always known his friend to be a person looking to do things the right way.

“When I heard about it I just remember it being really sad,” Arnold said. “I think he uses that as motivation. He’s very mature and he’s wise about his decisions on and off the field.”

Photo by Richard O'Donnell.

“A lot of kids don’t have to go through something like that, and for me to be able to go through that and still lead the way I do, it shows my inner strength,” Cerruti said. “Being a leader on this team means a lot to me. It’s a lot of responsibility and it’s a big job, but I think I do my part pretty well.”

Long Branch is a sectional champion once again, but the season isn’t over yet. The Green Wave will play rival Red Bank on Thanksgiving and then take on South Jersey Group 4 champion Shawnee in an NJSIAA Bowl Game, a new addition for 2018.

“I never want to stop playing football and I’m blessed to be able to play two more games,” Cerruti said. “It’s going to be an experience playing at MetLife (Stadium) and I can’t wait.”

From thinking football wouldn’t be in his future to being a fixture on back-to-back state championship teams, it’s been an inspiring ride for Kevin Cerruti. Every boy wants to make his father proud, and Cerruti has certainly done that.

“I think he’d be as shocked as me,” Cerruti said. “I know he was a loving guy and cared so much about me. I know he would be proud of me.”

 

Managing editor Bob Badders can be reached at bob.badders@townsquaremedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @Bob_Badders. Like Shore Sports Network on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube channel for all the latest video highlights.

 

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