Sachem North lineman Joe Cruz works on tackling drills during team...

Sachem North lineman Joe Cruz works on tackling drills during team practice on Monday, August 30, 2021. Credit: James Escher

There aren’t too many linemen who can move like Joe Cruz. Maybe that’s why the Sachem North product will be playing Power 5 football next fall. Cruz, who is committed to Syracuse, is 6-6, 285 pounds, but plays a lot smaller.

And that’s a good thing.

"He pulls like a much smaller lineman," said Sachem North coach Dave Caputo. "He just plays the game with an athleticism that we don’t see . . . Often times, when you get guys that size, they can’t move."

No one in Suffolk saw a lineman better than Cruz this fall. The senior won the Bob Zellner Award, given annually to Suffolk’s top lineman. It is the second time the award was given out in 2021. Long Island played football last spring after COVID concerns wiped out the 2020 season. Cruz didn’t win the award as a junior — that one went to Sayville’s Max Llewellyn. Cruz told Newsday in the preseason that winning the Zellner as a senior was a goal of his.

"I had to prove that I was one of the best on the island [since] I got the offer from Syracuse," Cruz said Saturday. "That was one of my goals, to be the best. I wanted to prove that I earned my scholarship, not just had it handed to me."

Cruz said he spent a lot of time in the summer working on his pass protection skills.

"I think my footwork got better," said Cruz, who played offensive and defensive line in high school, but will play offensive tackle in college. "I just got stronger. Blocking on the edge, I just knew what I was doing a lot more."

As a run-blocker, Cruz was excellent again. Sachem North averaged 250 rushing yards per game this season.

"He’s a very cerebral player," Caputo said. "Some people may say he’s not a ‘road grater,’ where he’s going to pancake or get a knockdown on every play. He’s also a technician. I think that gets lost . . . If you watch his game film from his senior year, he’s doing things technique-wise that other high school lineman aren’t doing."

Added Caputo: "I’ve been doing this 20-years, and been in football my entire life, and he’s the most compete high school lineman that I’ve seen."

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