Aug. 22, 1997
Cruz, Terps Try to Turn Some Heads
By David Hammel Journal staff writer
Moises Cruz wasn't too disappointed when the coaches of the University of Maryland football team decided not to play him last year.
Cruz, a redshirt freshman wide receiver from Germantown, initially believed he would play for the Terps as a true freshman. But Maryland had several experienced seniors ahead of the 1996 Seneca Valley High School graduate. This season, with the departure of three of the team's top five receivers, Cruz emerged from spring practice as one of the two starters at that position.
The only true freshman receiver Maryland didn't redshirt in preseason practice last year, Cruz worked with the first-, second- and third-team offenses in practices and was listed as high as second on the team's depth chart in some offensive formations.
Maryland had hoped to win at least seven games and play in its first bowl game since 1990 last year, but the team's offense was ineffective, finishing last in the Atlantic Coast Conference in total offense and in passing while scoring the third-fewest points in the nine-team league. The Terps finished the season 5-6, and head coach Mark Duffner and his staff were fired within a week of the team's 48-10 loss to Florida State in the season finale.
After Maryland's record slipped to 2-4 with a 38-7 loss to North Carolina, the fourth straight game in which the Terps failed to score 10 points (all losses), then-receivers coach Dennis Goldman told Cruz that he, too, would redshirt.
"At first I was [disappointed]. When it happened I was like, 'Gosh,' because I really wanted to play," Cruz said. "I wanted to contribute. But now that I look back it was probably a smart thing. I probably owe [Goldman] a thanks for that."
When new head coach Ron Vanderlinden opened spring practice, only three receivers who caught a pass during the 1996 season remained, and one, sophomore Troy Davidson, was subsequently moved to defensive back.
Of the five players listed on the depth chart at the two receiver sports, only juniors Bruce James and Kendrick Walton played the position in a game last year. James emerged from spring practice with the other starting spot, with Walton as his backup. Walton however, recently had a benign tumor removed and will not be at full strength until the end of September, Vanderlinden said last week.
Also listed on the depth chart are freshman Omar Cheeseboro, who was redshirted last year, and junior Keon Russell, the team's third-string quarterback in 1996. Maryland also has moved sophomore running back Harold Westley to receiver.
In the Terps' annual intrasquad scrimmage at the conclusion of spring practice, Cruz received the second-highest rating from the coaches among the receivers.
"When you lose three receivers from last year, all of the positions were then wide open, and [Cruz] was the guy that grabbed the position in the spring," Maryland receivers coach Mike Gundy said. "I like that he's reliable. He's in the right place at the right time. He gives great effort and he'll block."
Gundy is not alone in his praise for Cruz. This year's Maryland media guide cites Cruz and Cheeseboro for their quickness off the line of scrimmage and soft hands, then notes that those are attributes he shares with former Terp receivers Jermaine Lewis, who's now with the Baltimore Ravens, and Geroy Simon, who was cut by the Cincinnati Bengals this week. Cruz, however, thinks it's too early to mention his name in the same sentence with Lewis and Simon.
"When I think of Jermaine Lewis and Geroy, they're established receivers. They're totally legit. I hold them in the highest regard," Cruz said. "I couldn't see myself being compared with them. It's nice that they would [make the comparison], but I don't think I'm quite at that level yet. Those guys are awesome. I'm looking to be as good as them a couple years down the road."
Most observers don't see any of the Terp receivers as comparable with Lewis or Simon, the school's No. 1 and No. 2 all-time reception leaders, respectively. Maryland has experience on the offensive line, in the backfield and at quarterback, so the receiving corps looks to be the offensive weakness. Cruz tires of that analysis.
"I've heard a lot of talk ... that we weren't experienced, that we don't have depth. But I think it's just talk," Cruz said. "People who say such things don't come to these practices and watch us work and watch us do what we do every day. They just sit back and look at a sheet of paper and [say], 'Oh, they've got a bunch of freshmen and blah, blah, blah, nobody's played.' They just assume that we're not going to be any good."
"I think we have a very good group. Our coaches think we have a very good group," he added. "I think we're going to try to turn some heads."