ALBANY -- He's got the clothing line, the best-selling book, the Super Bowl ring and the signature dance. But before all of that celebrity, Victor Cruz was just an undrafted wide receiver from UMass trying to make an NFL team in training camp.
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It was on these fields at the University at Albany two years ago where he did just that, catching the eye of the coaching staff a few days before he caught three touchdown passes against the Jets in a preseason game and was propelled into stardom.
For Cruz, this is where the NFL started. And now he and the Giants are back.
"I'm excited to see the field again," Cruz said Thursday as he arrived for his third training camp and second in Albany; the team trained in New Jersey after last year's lockout. "I'm excited to see some of the areas where I was making some plays and stuff like that, but I'm just glad to be back out here. It's definitely nostalgic being up here with the guys, and you know some of the guys that I shared those times with my rookie season are still here so I can talk to them, and I've been talking to them. It's going to be fun."
Cruz first stepped into the spotlight before that preseason game when the Giants were dealing with injuries to veteran receivers and had to rely on younger ones to pick up the reps in practice. After that workout, Tom Coughlin jokingly said the Giants didn't need any other receivers. "We have Victor Cruz!" At that point, hardly anyone had heard the name.
This year, Cruz once again is one of the few steadies for a receiving group that is going through changes. Hakeem Nicks starts the season on PUP, Mario Manningham left in free agency and a handful of players are competing for the third spot in the rotation. Cruz is the only one whose role is established, and he's ready to go when the team begins practice Friday.
Cruz said he will embrace his role as a proven veteran, as opposed to the wide-eyed rookie of two years ago, but won't try to flaunt his position. "I'm not trying to go out there and be the godfather of the receivers or anything like that," he said. "Just go out there and be myself."
Of course, being Victor Cruz is a little different in 2012 than it was in 2010. There was no glom of media documenting his arrival at the dorms when he showed up as a rookie. He didn't even speak to reporters for the first week of camp.
Cruz also has the confidence produced by last year's breakout performance.
"I'm not as nervous as I was the first time, not knowing if I was going to make the team and what was going to happen,'' he said. "You just never know what's going to happen when you come up as a rookie free agent. This year it's a little bit more calm. Just continue to try to fine-tune my skills."
While looking back on where it all began, Cruz must be at least a little curious about where it's all going. He's in the last year of his contract with the Giants, grossly underpaid with a base salary of $540,000 due in 2012. He made some noise immediately after the Super Bowl about wanting a new deal, but since then has been resigned to playing this season as a bargain and then cashing in down the line.
"I don't need a contract to stay motivated,'' said Cruz, who had a franchise-record 1,536 receiving yards last season. "Just the thrill of winning with my team, at home in New York, a place I grew up, that's all the motivation I need to play football. I don't think a contract is something that's going to motivate me."
It didn't the last time he trained in Albany, either.