Sunday August 22, 2010

If you are a college football fan in New England, this was a pretty good week. After all, it's not often that smaller college football players from our area get as much publicity as Victor Cruz and Dominic Randolph got.

I'm not sure if anyone in the National Football League had as big a one-week run as Cruz, the former University of Massachusetts wide receiver, got. Three touchdown receptions for the New York Giants and the top play on SportsCenter will do that for you.

Cruz made such an impression that LeBron James tweeted about him and on the HBO show "Hard Knocks," Jets Coach Rex Ryan was heard to tell Giants coach Tom Coughlin "who is that No. 3?"

Not only that, but Cruz was a topic of conversation at UMass football media day on Tuesday, as head coach Kevin Morris opened his remarks by gushing about the three TDs Cruz caught on Monday night against the New York Jets.

"It's been crazy. It's been a real roller-coaster ride," Cruz said Thursday at training camp. "You can't let it stop here. You just want to be consistent and continue to do all the positives and keep learning. There's a lot more to learn."

Cruz is the second undrafted free agent wide receiver in three seasons to get a run with the Giants. Two seasons ago, Brandon London parlayed a good performance at the University at Albany into a spot on the practice squad and eventually a role last year with the Miami Dolphins.


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London and Cruz were scheduled to meet Saturday night in Pittsburgh, as London is trying to make the Steelers roster.

"I was at UMass a long time and their system is pretty similar to the system they use here," Cruz said. "That helped me a lot, being in that slot position and learning how to run routes. UMass helped me a lot."

The former Minuteman is one of 10 wide receivers on Coughlin's roster. He's one of four rookies and one of three free-agent rookies. Cruz is, however, the only free agent who has made a name for himself.

"It's definitely surreal" to be in Giants camp, Cruz said. "I grew up watching the Giants and lived 15 minutes away from the stadium [in Paterson, N.J.], but I'm just trying to capitalize on my opportunity and just keep moving forward -- getting better every practice and every meeting."

Cruz has been Mr. Popularity this week. Not only was he the talk of camp in Amherst, but he was still as wanted an interview among New York and Massachusetts media as anyone short of starting quarterback Eli Manning.

And you'd be correct if you were to assume his cell phone was continually blowing up with calls and texts from former teammates, classmates and New Jerseyians.

"It's still an on-going thing," he said. "It's probably not as many as the night of the game, but it's still a lot through the day. People telling me to keep my head up and keep moving forward. The calls have still been coming in."

On paper, the Giants are loaded at wide receiver with the likes of Hakeem Nicks, Sinorice Moss, Steve Smith and Mario Manningham. But Cruz has elbowed his way into the conversation among Coughlin and his staff. And if not, Cruz has certainly made his name known elsewhere in the NFL.

"I definitely feel like I'm still playing for a job," he said. "We are so deep at receiver and nothing's guaranteed."

Randolph was a record-setting quarterback at Holy Cross who got called by the Giants this week to join the team. Randolph was signed by the Giants as a free agent after the draft only to be cut before training camp. But here he is, a few exhibition games before the start of the NFL season, back in camp thanks to injuries to Eli Manning and backup Jim Sorgi. The Giants found Randolph on his way to Nantucket.

"It's an unbelievable opportunity. This is what I've been playing for in college. It's what everybody plays for -- to get to the next level," Randolph said. "I'm learning a lot, as much as I can for the weekend. It's great. You can't complain."

To reach Howard Herman:
hherman@berkshireeagle.com,
(413) 496-6253.