Joe Cruz stepped on the turf inside the Carrier Dome during his Syracuse campus tour on a summer Saturday. On a given fall Saturday, he would see this place turn into a roaring sea of orange, with 40,000 or so fans rooting on their favorite college football team in the ACC.
The gifted 6-6, 282-pound left tackle for Sachem North looked around. He could envision himself playing for the Orange.
"Oh yeah, definitely," Cruz said. "We walked on the field, and it was amazing."
Mike Schmidt, Syracuse’s new offensive line coach who had worked out Cruz when the 17-year-old senior from Holbrook visited on July 31, called two days later and offered a scholarship. Two days after that, head coach Dino Babers spoke to Cruz via Zoom and gave him a deadline: "This offer is good for two days."
"I thought it was kind of strange that it was only good for two days, but he said that they want guys who want to be there," Cruz said. "I wanted to be there, so I didn’t see a problem with that."
The next day, Cruz FaceTimed with Babers and gave his verbal commitment. It was Aug. 5. Cruz was Orange-bound. But before he begins the college chapter of his story, he has some goals in mind for the ending of his high school chapter with a team that’s seeded second behind Floyd in Suffolk Division I.
"Our team goal is always to win the Suffolk County championship," said Cruz, who also plays defensive tackle. "That’s a big goal this year. And my personal goal, I guess, is to win the Zellner Award, which is the top lineman award [in Suffolk]."
His coach, Dave Caputo, made Cruz a starting lineman as a freshman, inserting him right away at left tackle.
"The way he moved, it was different than other kids," Caputo said.
That’s still the case.
"We traveled to a bunch of camps all over the East Coast this summer, and there is no kid that size that moves like him," Caputo said. "He sort of glides.
"He’s hands down the top Long Island lineman as far as offense."
Cruz played just the last two games as a sophomore due to meniscus surgery. Then the pandemic arrived last year and caused side effects.
"He was a year behind as far as the recruitment process because we didn’t have a fall season and they didn’t do the camps last summer," said Greg Lauri, Sachem North’s offensive coordinator and recruiting coordinator.
But Cruz opened eyes with his film from the team’s 5-1 season last spring — he made the Newsday All-Long Island second team — and on that camp circuit.
Syracuse, Stony Brook and Lafayette made offers, and Rutgers and Pittsburgh were among several others to show interest.
"This is Sachem's first FBS scholarship offer since 1995, Jimmy O'Neal to Iowa State," Caputo said.
Colleges, including Maryland, have continued to phone since Cruz’s verbal commitment. But he doesn’t anticipate calling an audible.
"I think he’s going to do really well," Lauri said of Cruz going to Syracuse. "When I was at Nassau Community College, I coached a young man who ended up playing at Florida State, another young man who played at Ohio State, another kid who played on the LSU championship team a couple of years ago, all offensive linemen, and I would compare Joe to all of them."
Yet there’s more to Cruz than just blocking and tackling.
"He’s a first-class kid," Caputo said. "He’s a 90 student in the classroom. He would have the opportunity to attend a Harvard or Yale if he wanted to. He’s an unbelievable ambassador for our school district and our community. Everything you could imagine out of the face of your program, he is that."
One Sachem alum went on to play left tackle for the Giants and Jets — Jumbo Elliott. Cruz has drawn comparisons, including from the former Pro Bowler’s coach at Sachem, Fred Fusaro.
"He always looks up at Joe and says, ‘He looks just like Jumbo did when Jumbo was in high school,’ " Caputo said.
Cruz has heard the Elliott comparisons a lot.
"It feels great to be compared to one of the Sachem greats and one of the NFL greats," Cruz said.
Caputo can envision Cruz in the NFL, too.
"He has the ability to play on Sunday," Caputo said.
That would be fine with Cruz.
"It would be awesome to play in the NFL one day, but I’ve got to go through college first," Cruz said. "So we’ll see how it goes. Maybe in five years, you’ll see me at the NFL Combine."
More linemen to watch
Three players who made first-team All-Long Island in the spring for their line work also are back for their senior seasons. They include Floyd’s Brian Benson, who delivered 12 sacks as a defensive end and excelled at tight end; Floral Park offensive tackle/nose guard Joaquin Llaurado; and Garden City offensive tackle/defensive tackle and end Brendan Staub.