Pitt's Cruz anxious to seize opportunity
That Pitt tight end Mike Cruz even had one touchdown catch last season might seem impressive considering the two tight ends who were ahead of him.
Even Cruz described Nate Byham and Dorin Dickerson as "two of the best tight ends in the country" last year and said losing them both to graduation was a "huge, huge loss."
But without Byham and Dickerson ahead of him on the depth chart, Cruz, a 6-foot-5, 270-pound redshirt sophomore from Johnstown, has emerged as a leader this spring.
"This is Mike's third spring in the program, and he's starting to assume some leadership," Pitt tight ends coach Brian Angelichio said. "He's had a chance to sit and watch Nate and Dorin, and I think he understands that this is his time to assume some leadership, and that's good to see."
Cruz played in 11 games last season and found the end-zone on a 2-yard pass from Bill Stull -- Cruz's only catch of the year -- in a 41-14 rout of South Florida. Even though his playing time was limited, Cruz says the game experience was a tremendous help, especially now that he's taking the first-team reps at tight end.
"It was a huge loss losing two of the best tight ends in the country, and you really have some shoes to fill," Cruz said. "I feel like I need to step in and be a leader for the whole tight end group and for the offense. It's a huge, huge loss, but you can't dwell on who you lost. You just gotta step up and do your best."
Cruz now leads a Pitt tight end group with several new faces, including redshirt junior Andrew Devlin, who sat out last season after transferring from Virginia, and redshirt freshman Brock DeCicco.
"I definitely learned a lot watching Nate and all the older guys," DeCicco said. "Now, I'm just coming out, learning from Cruz and trying to learn and compete. It's making us all better right now."
While DeCicco has worked with the second team offense this spring and Devlin with the third, Angelichio said the focus right now isn't on filling out a depth chart.
"The biggest thing is that they're working hard," Angelichio said. "By no means is anything set. But they're trying to get better each day, and we'll see where we are in 15 practices. It's open competition, and the idea is to improve each day, and after 15 practices, some guys will separate themselves."
Cruz admitted that this group does have work to do as the spring progresses. But he, along with Angelichio, have seen a strong will to improve.
"I feel like right now, there's always room for improvement," Cruz said. "But the guys we have -- there's fight in our eyes, even in out meeting room. We just go out and give fanatical effort in practice."