Oceanside’s Derek Cruz has never put himself in an “I” situation. With the cavalcade of talent standing next to him in the huddle, the senior never saw himself as more than just a cog in an extremely well-oiled passing machine. But it will be Cruz’s name that stands alone in Long Island Football championship lore.
The wide receiver caught 16 passes for 158 yards and one touchdown in Oceanside’s 40-23 loss to Lindenhurst in the L.I. Class I title game Sunday night at Stony Brook’s LaValle Stadium. He set the record for most receptions in an LIC game. The previous record was 10 by Babylon’s Jake Carlock in 2013 and Seaford’s Kevin Murphy in 2016.
“We were just reading the defense well with those underneath routes and hitches,” Cruz said.
All told, Cruz gained 195 all-purpose yards (five rushing and 32 on kick returns to go with his receiving onslaught). The performance earned him Newsday Athlete of the Week honors.
While Cruz didn’t foresee a record-breaking afternoon, he said that he and quarterback Tommy Heuer knew they’d be able to throw on the Lindenhurst defense. “We watched a lot of film all week and knew that we were going to air out the ball the whole game,” Cruz said.
And when it comes to throwing, Cruz, who caught 85 passes this season, is an offensive focal point. “When we built this offense this year, we really built it around him and Tommy and tried to find ways to get him the ball in open space against safeties and linebackers, and really [setting up] our running game,” Oceanside coach Rob Blount said.Blount also noted Cruz’s game improved twofold from his junior to senior year, a product of cutting down on drops and spending more time in the gym with Heuer.
“To have 85 catches as a senior was a testament to all the hard work he did in the offseason, running routes with our quarterback and catching as many balls as possible,” Blount said. “As a receiver, he was just so dynamic because he can play in any spot. He can play the outside, he can play the slot. He’s a matchup problem because he’s very fast and is shifty enough to go over the middle. He played with no fear and was a tough person to cover.”
Emotions were still raw on Tuesday as Cruz discussed the LIC loss. But despite the disappointing final score, he takes solace in being a county champion — a major team goal — and now, an LIC record holder.
“Even though we lost, it still was a great season overall,” he said. “We accomplished our goal of winning the Nassau County championship, so it was successful.”