UMass and Monmouth. Classic football factories.
Not exactly, but two Jersey boys from these alma maters could be lighting up the 175-foot high-def TV in Cowboys Stadium on Sunday night.
Giants fans know the story of Paterson-native Victor Cruz: an undrafted rookie from the University of Massachusetts who is expanding his fan favorite status into a Pro Bowl resume in his second season. But don't forget Cowboys wide receiver Miles Austin, who penned a similar story a few years earlier.
Born in Summit, Austin went on to set records at Monmouth University (N.J.) but was undrafted after the 2006 NFL combine. He was eventually picked up by Dallas, where he spent the next two seasons primarily on special teams. But then in 2009, in his first career start, Austin set a franchise record with 250 yards and two touchdowns on 10 catches. Austin never looked back and was selected to back-to-back Pro Bowls in 2009 and 2010.
Cruz said the two haven't met yet, but he has been following his career path.
"A little bit," Cruz said of Austin, who practiced on Wednesday and is expected to play for the first time since missing four games with a hamstring injury. "He's kind of a Jersey guy that hit it big kind of story."
Meanwhile, Cruz will be making his debut against the Cowboys, the team he has admitted was his favorite growing up.
"Unfortunately, yes," he said. "It was my dad's fault. He was one of those crossover guys that liked Dallas growing up. So I watched them my whole life."
Not that he needs it, but Cruz should take some confidence from knowing how well Eli Manning has played in the two-year-old Cowboys Stadium.
Not only is Manning 2-0 there with passer ratings both over 100, his receivers have posted huge numbers. In the two games, four have broken 100 yards with matching touchdowns. In 2009, it was Mario Manningham (150 yards, 1 TD) and Steve Smith (134 yards, 1 TD). The following year it was Smith again with 101 yards and a touchdown while Hakeem Nicks put up 106 yards with two scores.
"I've noticed that," Cruz said. "And especially with the type of defense they like to play now where they like to do a lot of different coverages and a lot of different things to try to confuse us. That causes time for error and things like that. So they may misplace a receiver in coverage or something like that. I'm excited for the amount of big plays that are going to be out there, and I'm ready to take up that challenge."
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