When he is not scoring touchdowns, intercepting passes and electrifying the John F. Kennedy High School (JFK) faithful with his gridiron flair, Anthony Cruz can be found at home fixing his little sister Aliyah’s hair.
Or watching Tom and Jerry cartoons with his little brother Deshawn while eating their mother Miranda’s baked barbecue chicken, potatoes and corn.
Once he is done with his daily class schedule at JFK, Cruz, a good student with a 3.0 grade point average whose favorite subject is math, watches game film and talks to his coaches in their offices.
When he puts his headphones on chances are Cruz is listening to football highlights accompanied by music that he’s downloaded.
“It helps inspire me and work harder,” Cruz said.
On an average weekday he remains at school until 7:30 p.m. and then goes straight home.
Cruz credits his success to his mother, Miranda. “She’s everywhere,” he said. “She’s at my games, brings me Gatorade — even helps me with my plays.”
He says what he likes most about football, besides winning is not the adulation or fame, “but the learning. Always trying to figure out new things about the game.”
Such is the exciting life of a senior star quarterback who ranks third in rushing yards and first in interceptions among all Public School Athletic League (PSAL) varsity football players
Those numbers along with his solid grades and positive attitude has attracted the interest of several major division one college football programs.
Even after a record-setting performance on Oct. 12, when he scored six touchdowns on the ground and passed for another as JFK walloped Susan Wagner 53-20 Cruz, who was swarmed by teammates and fans after the game, remained modest.
“I don’t like talking about myself all that much,” said Cruz, who is 17. “I like to let my playing speak for me. I try and stay humble.”
A recruiting profile of Cruz might describe him as ultra-competitive, coachable, a great athlete.
“When the game is on, I feel like I don’t worry or care about anything but winning,” said Cruz, who is currently third among all PSAL payers with 879 rushing yards and leads the PSAL with seven interceptions.
But the recruiters may also note that perhaps above all of his football talents, he is maybe even a better young man.”
JFK assistant football coach Anthony Cruz Sr., agrees.
“As his father, I can tell you he is a nice kid,” Anthony Cruz Sr. said of his son. “He likes to be home mentoring his younger brother Deshawn who is also a quarterback. I’m really proud of him.”
Cruz and fellow seniors including Cristian Perez, Demetrius Wade, Caine Caldwell, Mashawn Simmons represent the final graduating class for JFK, which will close and cease to exist as an academic institution next year, though the football team will remain the Knights.
For Cruz, who began his career as a smaller, thinner version of himself as a freshman, it will be hard to leave to the school and teammates he has grown to love.
“It definitely feels like we are family,” Cruz said. “I’m going to really miss all this. I’ll miss the coaches, they always had my back.”
Still, Cruz says he hopes JFK could go out with style by winning its remaining games including a Nov. 1 showdown with arch rival DeWitt Clinton that will likely have play off implications.
Cruz entered JFK at the same time as head football coach Andy Lancberg.
The coach and his star player share a mutual respect for one another.
“We came in together,” Cruz said of Coach Lancberg. “He puts us through some tough stuff. He’s like a second father to me. I started my first game in my freshman year. He trusted me.”
Lancberg, who described the feeling of watching Cruz have a game like he did against Wagner as “euphoric,” compared losing his senior players to graduation like children leaving the house and starting their own lives.
“Anthony is like my own son,” Lancberg said. “He’s a really good kid and where he goes I truly believe he will have success. He’s easy to coach with a good personality and he communicates well. We hit it off right away.”
Going back to his Pop Warner football days in elementary school, Cruz had always wanted to be a wide receiver. It was only as a freshman he discovered he had a strong throwing arm. He credited JFK assistant head coach and offensive coordinator Augustine Tieri for helping him develop his passing skills.
By his junior year, Cruz had filled out to his current 6-foot-4-inch, 205-pound frame. He has what Tieri referred to as game speed combined with elusiveness and toughness.
Cruz has one remaining Regents exam to take and could graduate in January. But he wants to play his final basketball season — he is a starting guard — go to his senior prom and enjoy what remains of his time at JFK.
The only question remaining is where he will attend college and play football.
He attended football camps this summer hosted by Rutgers University, the University of Pittsburgh and Towson State University in Maryland.
So far, no school has offered Cruz a scholarship to play football.
Rather than being disappointed or worrying about the recruiting picture, Lancberg was philosophical but confident.
“Everything happens for a reason,” Lancberg said. “Let the chips fall where they may. We have to concentrate on what goes on the field. If we take care of business on the field everything else will fall into place.”
Cruz is part of an athletic family. His 16-year-old sister plays varsity volleyball and runs track for JFK, while 8-year-old Deshawn is a quarterback prodigy himself.
“I like mentoring him and showing him what to do,” Cruz said of Deshawn. “I try to be a good role model.”