It’s a ritual that has produced consecutive Virginia AA Division 4 state championships during the past two years and a shot at a third on Saturday when the fourth-ranked Falcons (14-0) travel to Liberty University to play Heritage-Lynchburg.
But as the final minute ticked away during the first half of the team’s Nov. 9 playoff opener against Powhatan, Serigne felt anything but lucky. Star senior linebacker Matt Rolin suffered a season-ending knee injury early in the contest and with Powhatan leading 7-0, the Falcons were on the verge of facing only their second halftime deficit of the season.
Still, Serigne knew not to panic. Instead, the versatile senior responded with the kind of play that has pitted him at every position but place kicker this season, reeling in a 27-yard touchdown catch to steal the momentum just before halftime and returning a fourth-quarter interception 30 yards for another score to punctuate a 34-7 comeback win.
“If we’re ever in a spot where we need a play, whether it be a short conversion or a big one, we know we can go to Cam,” Falcons junior quarterback Trace McSorley said. “It’s great to have him as sort of a security blanket.”
The fact that Serigne has built such reliance at tight end, a position often forgotten in high school football despite its increasing NFL relevance, speaks to his special skill set and strong leadership. In his third year as a varsity starter, the Wake Forest recruit has caught a team-high 51 passes for 885 yards and nine touchdowns. This week he was named to the All-Region II team at both tight end and defensive end.
As a kid, though, Serigne wasn’t allowed to touch the football. Youth league rules saved that privilege for normal-sized sixth-graders, not 115-pound mammoths like Serigne, who was confined to the offensive and defensive lines.
Then in seventh grade, Serigne was further separated from the joys of his natural sport when his father’s job transferred the family to England. For two years, Serigne had no contact with football, instead playing rugby, basketball or any other activity that would pass the time.
As Falcons Coach Charlie Pierce recollects, it didn’t take long for Serigne to get reacquainted with football once he returned.
“Cam is a rare breed of athleticism and intelligence who is advanced beyond his years,” Pierce said.“Early on, we moved him up to JV and varsity because he had really good hands, some of the best young hands I’d seen in a long time.”
Serigne’s early mastery of the game proved vital in his sophomore year. When star running back Michael Brownlee broke his leg in the 2010 season opener, Pierce turned to then-freshman McSorley to lead a more spread-based attack. To help his quarterback with such an undertaking, Pierce had Serigne wear the play wristband and serve as the on-field offensive coordinator.
“He made everything that much easier for me,” McSorley said. “Without him and the leadership of other guys, I wouldn’t have been able to come in and do what I did as a freshman.”
What the Falcons did was win their first state title one year after going 4-6 and missing the playoffs. But for Serigne, who caught 43 passes for 438 yards that season, there was still work to be done. No longer the abnormally-sized “big kid” on the field, Serigne had trouble shedding tacklers.
“I was more of a wide receiver at first and not really in a tight end frame, so after I caught the ball, I immediately got tackled and went down,” Serigne said. “I had to get stronger so I could block better and be more effective.”
Serigne grew two inches and helped by engrossing himself in the team’s weight program, added 50 pounds to reach his current stature of 6-foot-3, 225 pounds. And as Serigne’s body has expanded, so have his abilities. On offense, he regularly turns screen passes into long gains, lines up in the Wildcat and opens gaping holes along the line with his blocking. Defensively, a mix of speed and power allows him to make open-field tackles and defend effectively in coverage.
“He gets after the quarterback on defense and always seems to know where the ball is. He’s never guessing or picking the wrong blitz,” Falcons lineman Trei Germany said. “He’s been extremely valuable for us, especially since Matt went down, because he knows the offense and defense forwards and backwards.”
With their senior captain leading the way, the Falcons have overcome another key injury while stringing together 28 straight wins to position themselves for their first undefeated season.
“Without Cam, I don’t know how everyone would have reacted when Matt went down,” McSorley said. “But he helped us stay positive and brought everyone together, and that’s a big reason why we’ve been able to get back to this point.”