Before he became known for his celebratory salsa in the end zone, New York Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz played street football in his predominately Puerto Rican neighborhood.

“My dad was a little league football coach and he taught me everything I know about the game,” recalls Cruz, who avoided the drugs and gangs in Paterson, NJ to become a role model for Hispanic athletes.  

“It feels amazing to influence kids and inspire an entire culture to pay attention to a sport [American football] that Hispanics didn’t necessarily follow,” says Cruz.  

Shaking things up

His trademark touchdown salsa, taught to him as a baby by his late grandmother, pays homage to his heritage. She not only inspired his moves, but was known for making his favorite dish, arroz con gandules (rice and beans), a recipe passed down to his mom, Blanca.

Cruz credits his dad and coaches for helping him keep his “head on straight,” even as he faced obstacles. 

Left: A young Cruz after church when he was a young boy. Right: Victor in high school attending summer camp.

“They said little things that helped keep me motivated,” explains Cruz who turned his life around after dismissal from college for poor grades. 

The untimely death of his dad in 2007 emboldened him to step up his efforts.  “I decided I could change, and if I did, my future would change with it.”  He attended community college, raised his grade point average so he could return, play football and graduate from the University of Massachusetts. 

“Setbacks are only little things that happen for major comebacks,” advises Cruz, who tells young Hispanic athletes to follow their dreams. “Don’t let someone tell you that you can’t do something. Don’t let them deter you from your goals.” 

Cruz, in his fifth season with the Giants, has entertained the idea of teaching salsa. “I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t given it thought, but right now I’m focused on football.”