He may not have been coming off a Super Bowl win, but Victor Cruz still received plenty of attention on Saturday afternoon at the Mullins Center.
The former Massachusetts football wide receiver, who just finished a Pro Bowl season with the New York Giants, took time out of a rather more relaxed offseason on Saturday to sit courtside and take in the UMass men’s basketball team’s victory over Dayton.
Last year, Cruz was all over headlines after he helped lead the Giants to a Super Bowl win. The undrafted receiver was suddenly a celebrity, signing endorsement deals, appearing on talk shows and eventually publishing a book. This year, he said, his offseason has been more laid-back. The Giants didn’t make the playoffs, which has allowed him to spend his extra time doing other things.
“I kind of get to calm down, just take things day by day and really focus on the things I want to do,” Cruz said to reporters during the early portion of the second half of Saturday’s game. “It’s a little bit different, but you always want to win that Super Bowl so hopefully we can go back and do that.”
Despite a more relaxed offseason, Cruz hasn’t been able to escape all the headlines. He will become a restricted free agent on March 12 if the Giants don’t sign him to a new contract before then, something he’d like to resolve as soon as possible.
“Hopefully we can end that talk soon, hopefully we can get a deal done, if not with the Giants then unfortunately somewhere else, but I want to be a Giant for a long time, so we’ll see how it goes,” Cruz said.
Cruz also said he followed his alma mater’s first season as a member of the Football Bowl Subdivision, and despite the team finishing with a record of 1-11, he’s optimistic about the program’s future.
“It’s been a little bit of a painful year this past year, but I think it can only go up from here,” he said. “I think Coach (Charley) Molnar is doing a great job of recruiting some guys in here that are top-tier level and top-tier athletes and I think it can only go up from here, so I’m happy for him and I’m happy for the way it’s progressing.”
Saturday was the first time Cruz was on campus since last year, when he also attended a UMass men’s basketball game in the team’s win against Xavier on Feb. 21, 2012.
On Friday afternoon, Cruz tweeted, “Think I might check a college game tomorrow. Lets check the schedule…” and within minutes, he said, UMass point guard Chaz Williams direct messaged him asking him to come to Saturday’s game. Cruz obliged.
“Basically it fit my schedule,” Cruz said. “I always come every year. I love going to Antonio’s and bringing back all those memories of when I used to come here and be a student, so it’s a good feeling.”
As for Williams, who wears No. 3 just like Cruz did in his college days, Cruz said he follows him closely.
“I follow Chaz all the time,” he said. “I speak to him every chance I get.
“Typically when you wear No. 3 at this program, it means a great deal, so hopefully we can keep that tradition going. Chaz is doing a great job.”
Cruz also took time talking about what he wants to do when his football playing career is over. Cruz, who has become known for his Salsa dance touchdown celebrations, said he isn’t planning on being on the ABC hit show “Dancing with the Stars” any time soon, but did say he’d like to pursue a career on the screen, and eventually do something no one else has done before.
“I think I’m going to get into broadcasting a little bit. We’ll see how it goes,” Cruz said. “To be honest, I was thinking big picture, I want to act a little bit, see if I can jump in these movies and be the first guy with a Super Bowl ring and an Oscar.”
Stephen Hewitt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @steve_hewitt.