Westmoreland football notebook: Hempfield senior perseveres after 3 ACL tears

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Thursday, September 1, 2022 | 9:01 AM


Arthritis at age 25? A knee replacement at 35?

These are potentially small prices to pay to lineman Zach Persinger, who has had three anterior cruciate ligament tears in his left knee, and major surgery, in as as years.

The unshakable Hempfield senior is finally healthy and starting at nose tackle for the Spartans, who opened the season last Friday with a 49-3 victory over Greensburg Salem.

“Football is fun, and I am with my guys,” the 6-foot-3, 315-pound Persinger said. “I don’t want to have any regrets later on that I didn’t play my senior year.”

But three ACL tears?

“My surgeon told me not to play football again,” he said. “But I am.”

His first tear came at the start of his freshman year, three plays into a scrimmage. It happened again, he said, nine months later, two days after he was cleared, during a light workout at Hempfield Park.

“I stepped in a hole,” he said.

More rehab followed, and he had 12 screws and two plates put into his leg.

It was discovered he had an abnormal slope to his knee and would need reconstructive surgery, which he had between his freshman and sophomore years.

But the shadow still followed him around, and he fell while trying to climb a muddy hill on crutches during a fishing trip to Turkeyfoot. He broke his knee cap.

Another repair and another new ACL came with him into this summer, when he remained committed to returning to the field.

“He should be an inspiration to our kids,” Hempfield defensive line coach Steve Santia said. “He is focused and having fun. You never know which play might be your last.”

Persinger said he had doubts about playing again but stayed on his determined course with support all around him.

“(Strength) coach (Tyler) Zimmer has really worked with me,” Persinger said. “He helped with my directional movement, and then I made it through heat week. By the third day of camp, we were hitting and I felt good. No pain. I am still learning the (varsity) game. I have the body of a senior but the mind of a freshman.”

Persinger also worked to lose weight, a benefit that not only aimed to improve his movement but also to take some pressure off the knee. He dropped around 60 pounds to get into game shape.

“We weighed several of our guys every day,” Hempfield coach Mike Brown said. “Some were trying to gain, but Zach was trying to lose. He really worked hard in the weight room. Mentally, too. He never complains.”

History books

Penn-Trafford senior quarterback Conlan Greene had a debut to remember last week, throwing for 335 yards and three touchdowns in a 35-28 victory over Canon-McMillan. He completed 23 of 30 pass attempts.

His yardage total ranks fourth in Penn-Trafford history. The top three performances were turned in by Tyler Huether (364 yards, Sept. 2, 2005), Jeff Palladino (359 yards, Oct. 29, 1988) and Huether (339 yards, Sept. 16, 2005).

Palladino also had a 332-yard game in ’88.

Challenge for the Leps?

Belle Vernon is the top-ranked team in WPIAL Class 3A, where the school dropped for the new, two-year enrollment period. But a former 4A foe will take on the Leopards in their opener Friday night at “The Beach.”

Laurel Highlands senior Rodney Gallagher, who moved from quarterback to wide receiver this season, had five touchdowns last week in a 50-6 win over Uniontown.

Belle Vernon features star running back/defensive back Quinton Martin.

Leopards coach Matt Humbert is anxious to see his team get tested early.

He is a former Laurel Highlands quarterback.

“It should be a great atmosphere,” Humbert said. “Everybody knows what they have offensively. It’s a good challenge for our secondary and linebackers.”

Best of the Batch

Two Westmoreland players were selected to the 2022 Best of the Batch, a preseason all-star list compiled by former Steelers quarterback Charlie Batch’s foundation.

Penn-Trafford senior lineman Joe Enick and Norwin junior receiver Jackson Pons were selected to the 12-player group that was recognized Sunday at Acrisure Stadium during the Steelers’ preseason game against the Detroit Lions.

Bill Beckner Jr. is a TribLive reporter covering local sports in Westmoreland County. He can be reached at bbeckner@triblive.com.

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