Syracuse, N.Y. — Syracuse football could barely field a roster in 2020, left with fewer than 60 scholarship players late in the season. Transfers were denied eligibility, and a fullback was forced to play guard.
Now, a once decimated offensive line is finally healthy enough to practice. Transfers are participating in team activities, and reinforcements could extend this unit 20-deep by the fall. Helping fill out that depth are five commits from the class of 2021, and tackle Enrique Cruz is poised to be the crown jewel.
The 6-foot-5, 252-pound high school senior from Chicago is a four-star recruit according to 247Sports' composite rankings. He's the highest-rated offensive lineman to commit to Syracuse since 2018.
Cruz received offers from Mississippi State, Oklahoma State, Louisville, Wake Forest, West Virginia, Arizona, Utah, and Indiana but decided to come to Syracuse.
Cruz recently spoke with Syracuse on SI about his decision to commit, how he reacted to coaching changes, and his unique leadership style. The interview below has been transcribed and edited slightly for clarity.
Q: What member of the coaching staff was the biggest reason for you choosing to come to Syracuse?
A: Well, it wasn't really one. It was all of them. Coach Lynch, Coach Cav (Cavanaugh), and Dino Babers for sure. All of them together as a collective were amazing.
Q: What about them as a collective did you really like?
A: They're really like a family. They were all like connected and stuff. And they all texted my family and me too, which is pretty amazing.
Q: How important is family to you and your life?
A: That's the most important thing in my life. Family first.
Q: How were you able to decide to go to a school so far from home?
A: My family understood, and they actually don't want me to stay in Illinois. We had a conversation about that, and they were like, "there's nothing really for you in Illinois anymore." I know they have my back, and they're going to be there for me no matter what. It's hard leaving, but at the same time, I know any time I need to call someone, I can call them. It's going to be hard but, I'll have to get used to it.
Q: Did you and your parents have an equal say in your decision to go to Syracuse?
A: Well, they never decided. They never would decide for me. They told me the schools they liked, you know, and what they felt about them. The coaches at Syracuse, they're like their favorite coaches because they'll text them like a person. They'll text them, and I don't even know that they're texting. That's crazy. That's insane.
Q: Not too long ago, Coach Cavanaugh leaves for a different job at another school. What's going through your mind when you get the news?
A: He called me and, you know, I wish him nothing but the best for sure. He's an amazing person. He told me about it. It was nothing personal. I wish nothing but the best for Coach Cav.
Q: Did you have any question in your mind if Syracuse was still the right place to go when you heard he left?
A: I didn't. You can't just go to school for the coaches because the coaches can leave whenever. You gotta go to school because you like it. So, at the same time, I wish he could've coached me, but I went to Syracuse for Syracuse. I know Coach (Mike) Schmidt. I talked to him on the phone. He's a good person, so I can't wait for him to coach me too.
Q: What did he tell you about his coaching style or his approach to the position?
A: Very, very, very technical. Very technical. Like, he's very, very, very technical. That's what all the other coaches told me about him, and he told me.
Q: Syracuse could have 20 guys at the offensive line position. There's a lot more room on the roster because guys have an extra year of eligibility. How do you feel about the competition that you're walking into?
A: I love competition for sure. I don't mind it. Competition is competition. You gotta fight for your spot, which will make you a better player.
Q: Syracuse has had some lean years for football recently, and many people would put most of the blame on the offensive line. What would you say to someone who doesn't expect much from the offensive line unit?
A: Offensive line is going to be different this year. We have a great bunch of people coming that they've recruited in the year that I'm coming in. We're all amazing players, and we got a bunch of people coming back. It's going to be completely different this year.
Q: Are the upperclassmen guys that you're going to look forward to meeting and really try to utilize their advice and experience?
A: Oh yeah, for sure. Even in high school, when I was a junior, I was always with the seniors trying to see what they're doing because they were the leaders of the team. I for sure learned a lot from them. I will learn a lot from these upperclassmen already there.
Q: Do you think with the delay in the (high school) season and the shortened season, do you see that having any negative impact on your preparation for the next level?
A: No, actually, I think I'll have more because I'm playing a season. My season ends in April, and I'm supposed to go in July, so I'm playing a full season in the spring, and then I'm going a couple months later. So I think actually it gives me more preparation.
Q: As a senior, have you taken any of the underclassmen under your wing and shown them the ropes?
A: Oh yeah, for sure. I'm always in contact with my o-line. I try to give them little tips when I could. We have amazing coaches. I let the coaches coach. Sometimes you understand what a coach is saying. I'll just give them little things that I do. I'll tell them how to fix it. The coaches aren't playing, so they don't see what you're seeing. So, I'll tell them, like, "if you see this, you got to do this and that." So, you know, I tried. I'm always in contact with my o-line, making sure they're good.
Q: How would you describe your leadership style?
A: I try to build you up, I try my best to show you things and stuff, but sometimes I get a little Kobe-ish, you know. You do wrong, I might have to tell you. If it keeps on happening, I might have to chew you out a little bit, and hopefully, you don't take it the wrong way.
Q: Is that the same kind of coaching style that you respond to best as a player?
A: I don't mind tough love. It's coming from the heart. It's coming from them wanting you to do good. If a coach doesn't yell at you, that means they don't care.