Who Is Victor Cruz?
A standout high school athlete, Victor Cruz eventually starred for the University of Massachusetts. After going undrafted in 2010, Cruz signed with the New York Giants. The following season, Cruz had a breakout year, setting a club record in receiving yards and leading the franchise to a Super Bowl victory.
Cruz was born in Paterson, New Jersey, on November 11, 1986. The son of Michael Walker, an African American firefighter, and Puerto Rican–born Blanca Cruz, young Victor came up in a Paterson that was dominated by gangs and drugs. Opportunities, especially for young boys of color like himself, were few.
"In the city, a lot of crime happens, a lot of violence happens from time to time," he later said. "Growing up in Paterson wasn't the easiest thing."
But his parents, who never married, kept their son on a tight leash and made sure he avoided trouble. Primarily raised by his mother and grandmother, Cruz nevertheless received plenty of guidance and support from his dad, particularly when it came to sports.
At Paterson Catholic High School the slender (just 165 pounds) and short (5'9") Cruz starred on the football field, as both a receiver and a kick returner. But poor college boards denied him the chance at any scholarships. Instead, after graduating in 2004, Cruz enrolled at Bridgton Academy in Maine, where he did a postgraduate year to boost his academics and continue to play football.
With improved test scores, Cruz enrolled at the University of Massachusetts in the fall of 2005. The football team redshirted him that season, with the hope he'd be ready to play the following year. But poor grades forced Cruz to leave the school and return to Paterson to regroup and take classes at a local community school to boost his college grades.
For Cruz, the year off proved to be a trying time. Embarrassed by having to live at home again, he rarely went out. Then tragedy struck when his father took his own life. His father's death forced Cruz to take his own life more seriously.
"I had to be the man of the family," he later told The New York Times. "It was up to me not to waste the opportunities I had been given. I had to study and work. There was still light at the end of the tunnel for me, and while it might have been dim, I had to run to it with everything in me."
That next fall, Cruz re-enrolled at UMass. On the field, Cruz turned himself into one of the most acclaimed receivers in the program's history and finished in the Top 10 in several career statistics even though he played just two seasons as a full-time team starter.
Despite the numbers, Cruz went undrafted in the 2010 NFL draft. While several teams inquired about bringing him in as a free agent, Cruz eventually signed with his hometown New York Giants.
But a breakout rookie year was not in the cards. A serious hamstring injury forced the young receiver to miss most of the 2010 season.
With injuries plaguing the Giants' receivers at the start of the 2011 season, Cruz was thrust into the starting lineup. He wasted little time taking advantage of the situation. For the regular season, Cruz led the club in receptions and set a club record in receiving yards.
In the NFC title game against the San Francisco 49ers, Cruz caught 10 balls for 142 yards. In Super Bowl XLVI, Cruz helped steer the Giants to victory over Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.
Even more than the club's star quarterback, Eli Manning, Cruz proved to be one of the media darlings during the Giants' Super Bowl run. He earned particular notice for his celebrated salsa touchdown dance, which he said he did in honor of his late grandmother.
In June 2013, Cruz, who was fresh off his first Pro Bowl season, inked a five-year, $43 million contract extension with the Giants. However, he soon encountered new challenges in the form of injuries. Cruz's 2013 season ended after he sustained a sprained left knee and a concussion against the Seattle Seahawks in December. The following year, he tore his patellar tendon against the Philadelphia Eagles in October, curbing another promising season after just six games. More injuries sidelined him for the 2015 season. After undergoing extensive rehab, Cruz made it back to field in 2016.
In February 2017, the Giants released Cruz. He signed a one-year deal with the Chicago Bears, but then they released him in September 2017.
On August 21, 2018, Cruz officially announced his retirement from the NFL to become an analyst for ESPN. “As I officially close one chapter of my life and begin another, I could not be more thrilled to join another championship team at ESPN,” he said. “I’m excited to get started and share my insight and analysis with the viewers and fans of the NFL.”
In January 2012, Cruz and his longtime girlfriend, Elaina Watley, became parents with the birth of their daughter, Kennedy.
In December 2012, just before a game against the Atlanta Falcons, the football star honored 6-year-old Jack Pinto, a big Cruz fan and one of the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in Newtown, Connecticut, by writing Pinto's name on his cleats and gloves. Cruz then presented the gloves and cleats to Pinto's brother, Ben.
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