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Salsa-dancing Giants champion Cruz on his battles with adversity

By Cathy Finkler

When Victor Cruz was 20, he was an unknown, working at a retail outlet in the sprawling Garden State Plaza mall in northern New Jersey.

Five years later, the New York Giants wide receiver is known virtually everywhere:  he's salsa danced his way through end zones and he's helped his team on their way to a Super Bowl championship.

Cruz's road to the NFL wasn't just a straight line to a touchdown. Cruz left college twice before graduating and becoming an undrafted free agent.

Cruz dropped by Morning Joe Wednesday to discuss his new book, “Out of the Blue,” with co-author Peter Schrager.

He reflected on his journey saying, “the ride wasn’t always easy.” Schrager agreed with Cruz in saying he was not “groomed to be a football player” and that “every step of the way there’s been a setback.”

Growing up in Paterson, New Jersey to a single mother, Cruz worked hard to graduate high school and attend college, noting the SAT test was a struggle. Cruz took the test six times before he reached an acceptable score. When Mika asked him to talk about that struggle, Cruz said, “standardized tests weren’t my thing,” but he understood he had to pass the test, to get to his “next dream, next goal.”

Cruz did achieve that next goal, entering the University of Massachusetts at Amherst only to “take it for granted” and was “sent home twice.” Mike Barnicle asked about where he found the strength to go back and finish school. Cruz said “his mother and support system” pushed him “not to quit and keep focused.” Cruz began taking community college courses and set short-term goals for himself.

Cruz also said, “I had to remain persistent and stick with the path” and “at the very least get a college degree.”

During a preseason game against the New York Jets in 2012, Cruz’s stellar performance got him placed on the Giants’ roster and when injuries plagued the team in 2011, the young wide receiver became the NFL’s newest breakout star.

As Cruz looks towards the upcoming football season with an intense focus, he says “I want to keep it going and not let the dream die.”