Dr. Anthony Fauci speaks to how personal responsibility and social distancing is the key to ending the spread of the coronavirus. USA TODAY
Tyler Cruz hasn’t lived through a late summer and fall without football in his life for about a dozen years.
Score another one for COVID-19, unfortunately.
On Tuesday, the 2020 Cedar Crest grad’s freshman college football season, and that of his soon-to-be Franklin and Marshall College teammates, was canceled by the Centennial Conference due to continuing concerns about the coronavirus pandemic.
The decision wasn’t a total surprise to Cruz, a 5-foot-9, 203-pound freshman running back coming off a superb senior season at Cedar Crest last fall, when he rushed for 1249 yards and 19 touchdowns in the regular season and helped the Falcons to a 6A district playoff berth. He also led ultra talented Lancaster-Lebanon Section 1 in rushing yards and rushing touchdowns as Cedar Crest went 7-4, bowing out to Central Dauphin in the opening round of districts.
In addition, he lost his high school spring sports season, when his plans to run track for Cedar Crest were also derailed by COVID-19. But the news still was a bit jarring for a kid who’s committed himself mind, body and soul to football for the last dozen years.
“It’s been a little bit difficult,” Cruz said Wednesday afternoon. “I haven’t taken a year off from football since I was six years old. I can only speak for myself, but I saw this coming. I personally didn’t think we were gonna have college football or the NFL’s gonna play and we might not have high school football.”
But don’t worry, Cruz still intends to make the most of his freshman year at F&M, football or no football.
A serious student (3.4 GPA and 1180 SAT score as a senior at Cedar Crest), who plans to major in physics and attend grad school when his college days are over, a fall without football could, at least in terms of the classroom, be a blessing in disguise for Cruz.
“It’s hard, but I look at a little differently,” Cruz said of filling the void football has left. “I’m going to grad school (after college), so I take this as a year that I can focus all my efforts on working out, getting bigger and stronger and learning the playbook. And also getting my freshman year done and working toward my degree.”
That doesn’t mean he won’t wonder what might have been had he been able to put the Diplomats’ uniform on and challenge for playing time on head coach John Troxell’s NCAA Division III squad, which went 7-4 a year ago and won its third straight MAC-CC Challenge bowl game.
“I came in with the mindset that I’m gonna learn the playbook, get better in every way and really learn from the older guys, ” Cruz said. “But definitely (playing time) was on my mind. I felt that I could have an impact on the team as long as I was ready mentally and physically for the college game. Physically, I thought I was good, but mentally was where the challenge was gonna come for me, learning the playbook and things like that.”
But he’s also found out already that as much as he’ll miss football this season, there are other F&M players – and those at other Centennial Conference schools, for sure – who will be more lost without it than he will.
“I was very surprised to see what a lot of guys said,” he noted. “Some guys I know we’re talking about taking ‘gap’ years, they felt like they didn’t want to pay to go to school if they weren’t going to play. Some kids were taking the same approach as me, saying, ‘Hey, this is an opportunity to get my freshman year out of the way and be able to really focus and hone in mentally and physically prepare for the college game, as well as doing something we haven’t done in a while, which is be solely focused on academics without having to worry about football.”
That being said, two straight seasons without competing in a sport is a little much to deal with, even for someone who has his priorities in line like Cruz does.
“It’s honestly been difficult,” Cruz said. “When COVID-19 was just coming out, kids were thinking, ‘This is great, we’ll get a little break from school, but we’ll be able to come back and have track and stuff. And then to see it wipe out two seasons now, it’s definitely been shocking to me and crazy.”
As a result, Cruz figures to be looking back on his glory days at Cedar Crest a bit more often this fall than he originally anticipated. That can be good and bad.
“I made great memories in high school,” he said, “and I think about it a lot. I’m not gonna be playing with my teammates anymore, kids that I grew up with. And now I can’t even be with my college teammates. All the losses we took, you think back to where you could have done some things differently. In the fall, there was gonna be other stuff on my mind, now there’s gonna be an extra year to think about all those things again.”
He might have company, though, if more football seasons are cancelled in the coming weeks. Frankly, Cruz doesn’t see how a season, at any level, can be played under the current conditions and safety restrictions.
“With football, I don’t know how you’re gonna enforce the guidelines that the CDC has,” Cruz said. “You’re trading sweat with somebody, blood, and you have to tackle them and stuff. In football, it’s too hard to not have contact with someone all the time.”