A redshirt freshman tight end, Mike Cruz came a long way to secure that reception. Going back to his recruitment by the Panthers, Cruz initially committed to Pitt, changed his mind and then eventually signed a letter of intent in February, 2008.
Indecision hit Cruz again during training camp this summer, and he missed several practice days after the 6-foot-5, 270-pounder returned to Johnstown to ponder his future. After some soul-searching, as well as discussions with family members and the Pitt coaching staff, Cruz returned to camp.
And now, he appears to have come full circle at Pittsburgh.
"It's in the past, and I'm over it,'' Cruz said. "To tell you the truth, I wasn't thinking. I guess it was just training-camp stress, but I really thank the coaches for hanging in there with me. They're not only coaches, but they care.
"(And) they don't just care about football. They care about school, too, so, they're looking out for your best interest. It was just something that wasn't really well-thought or well-planned, so it was just something that training-camp stress brought. But I'm just happy that they hung in there with me.
"I'm doing much better now,'' Cruz added. "All my problems are in the past. I've got two great tight ends in front of me this year to learn from, and I've definitely tried to take from them as much as possible.''
While senior Nate Byham has been used primarily as a blocker, and he might well be among the nation's best blocking tight ends, senior Dorin Dickerson has been a big-play pass-catcher with an NCAA-best nine touchdown receptions. Cruz has a long way to go to catch him, but at least he has one now.
"We (worked on) this play in practice, so I was confident that it would be there,'' Cruz said. "And I knew that Billy would get it there. So, it's one of those catches where, even though I was wide open ... it was supposed to come to me.
"So, all I had to do was wait for it. I was happy that they called my number, but I just wanted to step up and contribute to our success on offense. It was a play-action, and I saw the corner bite hard on it. So, I knew I'd be open.''
The resulting celebration also had to make Cruz smile.
"That's how this team is,'' Cruz said. "Once person has a big hit. One person has a big pancake block. ... Our team thrives off of each other. We're very close, and I'm just happy that I could contribute to our offensive success.''
Now that Cruz has shown that he's trustworthy on and off the field, the Panthers should be getting contributions from him the rest of the season and far into the future.
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