"It feels amazing actually," Cruse said. "I didn't even know what happened at first because it just happened so fast. It's a great feeling actually."
In the first extensive action of his career, Cruse played well, showing signs that he can be a productive player in the Badgers' defensive line rotation.
"He doesn't quite have it yet, but he's working towards it," defensive line coach John Palermo said.
Cruse redshirted last year and his play was enigmatic in practices. At 6-foot-5, 312 pounds, he is a physically gifted player, but his work ethic and mental aspects of the game needed improvement.
"A guy like Gino Cruse has come light years in a year," head coach Barry Alvarez said. "I didn't know, you know, if he'd ever contribute, and all of a sudden he's making plays in the game."
"Gino I think now is more motivated than he was a year ago because he wasn't playing," Palermo said. "Gino a year ago probably couldn't go 10 snaps without raising his hand and wanting to come out, whether it be practice or anything else. Now, my last memory of that is he went 50 snaps in a scrimmage and never asked to come out. So I think he's grown up a little bit that way."
The scrimmage Palermo referred to took place early in fall training camp, when Cruse began to show that was putting the pieces together. It helps that he is in line for regular playing time. That might not have been the case if Justin Ostrowski had not been injured during camp, or if true freshman defensive tackle Jeff Stehle had not missed about a week of practice with an injury, or if junior tackle Mark Gorman was not out with a broken foot.
Said Alvarez: "I think probably after Justin was injured and [Cruse] got into the rotation. He realized that, hey, I've got a chance to play. You know, and that's a big body. That's what they're supposed to look like. And he's playing hard and he's getting better."
Wisconsin already led 37-0 when Cruse entered the game with about six-and-a-half minutes left in the second quarter. Though the game was a rout, the playing time Cruse received was beneficial.
"Even if the game was a little out of hand, a sack is a sack, a tackle is a tackle," Cruse said. "It's a live situation. It helps determine if it was a different situation, how could I react?"
It was just one game, though, leaving little room for overconfidence.
"Gino's problem is when he has a little bit of success he really starts feeling good about himself," Palermo said. "So I've got to kind of knock him down a few pegs just to get him back to earth."
Cruse said he gained a lot from the opportunity to perform in a game, rather than practice.
"It's good because basically I want to show my coach, you know, I can actually play," he said.