SHIPPENSBURG, Pa. - Zach Zulli had a big grin on his face as he walked into the Shippensburg University sports information office. But it wasn't the news of his nomination for the Harlon Hill Award - Division II's version of the Heisman Trophy - that made him happy last week.
Nor was it the fact that, after nine games, the junior quarterback led all NCAA divisions in touchdowns, total offense, total passing yards and passing yards per game. It wasn't even that the Red Raiders are ranked No. 7 nationally, the best in school history.
All those things had the rest of this town of about 6,000 in south central Pennsylvania buzzing. But it was another piece of news that brightened Zulli's day.
He had just gotten himself benched.
"Zach had taken the reps on [Oct. 29 and 30], and I found out on [Oct. 31] I was getting the start," backup quarterback Jeff Tomasetti said. "I couldn't even believe Zach had gone up and requested that."
Heading into last Saturday's senior day game against PSAC doormat Cheyney, Tomasetti had taken most of his career snaps as the holder. But the senior never complained and figured out ways to get on the field by hustling on special teams.
Zulli, a standout quarterback at Perkiomen Valley High School, noticed that and saw Tomasetti as a role model, particularly after Zulli failed to win the starting quarterback job as a redshirt freshman in 2010. Instead of settling in on the bench, Zulli convinced the coaches to let him play receiver and return punts.
The next year, he became the starter, and now, two seasons later, Zulli had rewritten the school record books twice and entered the Cheyney game with the chance to end the regular season leading Division II in nearly every passing category.
"Jeff has inspired me a heck of a lot," Zulli said. "This guy never quit and never does anything wrong. He's in the weight room busting out everything possible. . . . That's the reason I came up to the coaches [to ask for Tomasetti to start]."
Tomasetti did start Saturday, and Shippensburg pummelled Cheyney, 61-9, earnibng a spot in Saturday's PSAC championship against Indiana University of Pennsylvania. Zulli came off the bench and completed 19 of 26 passes for 284 yards and four touchdown in a quarter and a half.
By letting Tomasetti and another backup QB, Chris Lawshe, play most of the blowout, Zulli surrendered the Division II lead in passing yards per game. But he still enters the game against IUP's top-ranked defense with a nation's best 3,845 passing yards, 49 touchdowns and just five interceptions.
"It just shows you a little bit about Zach," Shippensburg coach Mark Maciejewski said. "He's unselfish. It's about all of us, and this was just another deal where he helped the other players understand that."
After the 2010 season, Maciejewski turned the offense over to Zulli and offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich.
"Coach Mac asked me after that season if I was ready to learn the spread [offense]," Zulli said. His response was, "Heck, yes."
Together, Yurcich and Zulli have helped Shippensburg become one of the most potent offenses around. The Red Raiders are on a 14-game winning streak and haven't scored fewer than 36 points this season.
"Zach's not a big rah-rah guy," Yurcich said. "He doesn't really need to be."
Zach Zulli at a Glance
Here are the passing numbers this season for Shippensburg junior quarterback Zach Zulli:
Date Opponent Com.-Att-Int Pct Yds TDs Lg
Sept. 1 Shepherd 26-35-0 74.3 392 4 73
Sept. 8 Slippery Rock 22-41-1 53.7 348 4 42
Sept. 15 East Stroudsburg 27-38-0 71.1 496 5 52
Sept. 22 Millersville 17-28-1 60.7 227 4 29
Sept. 29 Lock Haven 32-41-1 78.0 403 5 89
Oct. 6 C.W. Post 21-32-0 65.6 276 2 53
Oct. 13 Kutztown 46-61-0 75.4 581 9 36
Oct. 20 West Chester 29-49-0 59.2 342 5 32
Oct. 27 Bloomsburg 35-60-2 58.3 496 7 63
Nov. 3 Cheyney 19-26-0 73.1 284 4 36
Totals 274-411-5 66.6 3845 49 89