WILLIAMSBURG — The last time New York Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz was on William and Mary’s football field, he was still on the sidelines, hoping to work his way into playing time.
The thought of playing in the National Football League seemed “far-fetched” to Cruz at the time.
In his return to Zable Stadium as a guest instructor at W&M’s Colonial All-Pro Camp on Tuesday, Cruz was the star on the field, coming off a breakout season that ended in a Giants Super Bowl victory.
Though the University of Massachusetts alum has had his life turned upside down since warming the bench in Colonial Athletic Association games, he is still trying to stay true to his roots.
“I look back on my life and I feel like I’m living a fairy tale right now,” Cruz said.
With the entire camp gathered in a semi-circle around him, Cruz obliged everyone’s lone request for him, asking everyone to stand up so they could do his signature touchdown dance with him — the Salsa.
Touchdown dances are common with football players, but Cruz’s Salsa represents where he’s come from as well as what he stands for.
“Around Week 3 of last season when I was getting my first start, Coach was like, you’ve got to do something to represent your heritage in the end zone,” said Cruz, whose family is from Puerto Rico. “I was like, I don’t know, Coach. I don’t know if I can make rice and beans in the end zone.”
Cruz shrugged his coach off, saying that he would be lucky to get a catch in that game against the Eagles, let alone a touchdown, but Cruz assured him that if scored, he would do a dance.
Cruz caught not one touchdown pass but two. After breaking free for a score in the first quarter, he fulfilled his promise to his coach by doing a Salsa that his grandma taught him.
The celebratory dance is now Cruz’s signature.
“I feel like being a part of that next generation of Hispanic athletes in the NFL is a big deal for me,” Cruz said. “I feel like I want to take advantage of it and broaden it as much as I can and get kids from the Dominican Republic or Puerto Rico in tune with football. If all I have to do is keep doing the Salsa in the end zone or keep talking to kids about football … then I’ll do that.”
Growing up in Paterson, N.J., Cruz said his first love was basketball before his coach told him that there are twice as many scholarships available in football. He wasn’t highly recruited out of high school but secured a scholarship with UMass, though he didn’t see playing time until his junior season. Though W&M coach Jimmye Laycock was never tasked with defending Cruz, he’s happy to see a CAA alum succeed.
“We compete against each other like crazy when we’re playing, but once they graduate, all of us coaches are all pulling for guys to come out of our league,” Laycock said. “We follow how they do in the National Football League and we take a lot of pride in pointing it out.”
Despite the unconventional route to the NFL, Cruz took advantage of his opportunity on the field, tallying 82 catches for 1,536 yards and nine touchdowns in 2011. He has a book coming out in three weeks about the adversity he overcame and even has his own clothing line. It all started with a touchdown and then a dance.
“My life has done a complete 180 since then,” Cruz said. “It’s just a complete whirlwind. I just want to keep the ball rolling. I want (to) stay consistent — be the same player and the same person I was a year ago."