"Having Coach Regan as a coach, that definitely, definitely, has molded me as a player," Cruz said. "He wants us to strive for physical football. No doubt he has turned me into the defensive player I am today."
Regan's first name is Neal and he serves coach Joe McCourt as Roman's defensive coordinator. As a player, he dislodged teeth and cracked bones as a linebacker for Archbishop Ryan (class of 2000) and that school was Roman's opponent Saturday in a Catholic AAAA game at George Washington.
So, how did Cruz perform on his mentor's ol' stomping grounds? As if he'd changed his name to Regan.
As Roman triumphed, 14-7, Cruz involved himself in 12 tackles, often as the solo guy or first hitter. He made stops on three of the Raiders' first four plays, setting an early tone, and notched a tackle for loss and broken-up pass on their final two snaps of the game.
"I was looking at this like it was a playoff game from the time I woke up," Cruz said. "I had to come out with intensity. I had to keep that mentality: Be fierce. Be physical. Be fast."
Sounds like something you might see on the front of a T-shirt. Is that the defensive unit's rallying cry?
"Nah," Cruz said, laughing. "Just something I came up with right now. Off the top of my head."
What's beneath that head is now thicker. Cruz, with the move from outside linebacker in mind, added weight and strength over the summer.
"It's definitely more physical dealing with the big boys inside," he said. "Ryan has a good offensive line.
"It feels good to know I played like this. It gives me more confidence going into next week's game with O'Hara. I want to be better, too. That's how I feel every week. Play better than I did in the last game."
For regular followers of Catholic League football, the name Chris Cruz should be familiar. Well, part of it. Last year, when he was known as Chris Johnson-Cruz, he was pressed into quarterbacking duty, filling in for the injured, now-senior Michael Keir, in the Cahillites' AAAA semifinal vs. St. Joseph's Prep.
In a 45-17 victory, all Cruz did was throw for five touchdowns, most in city postseason history, along with 230 yards. He also ran for a score.
The number of passes he'd thrown all season? One.
"I still look back at that day as being amazing," Cruz said. "It was something nobody expected. I got that chance and I definitely brought my 'A' game. Did I surprise myself? Overall, no. I had confidence in my talents."
When asked if he still has the fling-it itch, he responded, "At practice from time to time I still throw the ball around. Technically, I'm not the backup QB, but I do take some reps. If anything happened to Michael, God forbid, I do think they'd call my number."
In this one, Keir passed 10-for-17 for 156 yards and scored the TDs on up-the-middle bursts of 8 and 18 yards. Ryan's tally was registered on a 43-yard toss from Mark Ostaszewski to Connor Golden.
Roman's William Fuller, a Notre Dame commit, notched three catches for 66 yards along with a leaping, end-zone interception.
In college, Cruz, who lives on Cadwallader Street, near 3rd and Oxford, projects as a strong safety. James Madison, Stony Brook and Massachusetts are showing interest and he envisions pursuing a career in communications or accounting.
On Saturdays, Chris Cruz will major in crunchin'.
Contact Ted Silary at email@example.com. High schools sports online at www.philly.com/rally