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NBC New York
Victor Cruz, the salsa-dancing touchdown king on the Super Bowl-bound Giants, is from Paterson, N.J., a community that's been ecstatic about his rise from the rough streets to football fame. Roseanne Colletti has more from his proud hometown.
Victor Cruz has danced his way into the hearts of Giants fans, but he didn’t dare do that back in high school in Paterson, N.J., where his coach at Paterson Catholic said no such strutting was allowed.
“The salsa dance in high school would get you a 15-yard penalty,” Benjie Wimberly, Cruz’s former coach, told NBC New York. “He started that with the Giants.”
Cruz, 25, laughed when he was reminded of Wimberly's rules during a salsa-dancing lesson he hosted at a Modell's store Tuesday evening.
"There was no celebratory dancing in high school," he agreed. "But once you get to the NFL, when you're young watching, you just want to have your own trademark stuff, so I'm fortunate to have something the fans can cling to. It's fun to do."
Cruz grew up to play at University of Massachusetts, moving on to become a star wide receiver and quite the hero in his hometown.
As for how the salsa became his touchdown move, Cruz said it started as a joke.
"My coaches were saying it's Hispanic Heritage Month, and they wanted me to do something," he said. "I was getting my first start that day, and they wanted me to do something special. So I just came up with it."
"My grandmother was the one who taught me the dance," he added. "She loved every second of it. It's just been fun."
Cruz said even as a boy in Paterson watching Super Bowls, he never imagined he would one day make it to one.
"As much as you watch it, as much as you see the game-winning kicks and guys running on the field, you never think that'll actually be you one day," he said.
“We are all excited to see a hometown guy in the Super Bowl,” said Wimberly. “This is just Vic, one of the guys from the neighborhood who’s done well and never forgotten Paterson.”
Paterson Catholic is no longer a school, but at another public school in Paterson, No. 80 and Giants memorabilia decorate the building. One proud fan says her 13-year-old son has a homegrown role model.
“Him being from Paterson lets kids know they can go out and be what they want to be and do what they want to do, watching him being successful,” said Zoryevette Perez.
Cruz grew up in the working class neighborhood of East Paterson, where his mother and sister still live at his family home. It was a multicultural home -- his father was black and his mother Puerto Rican.
Neighbors remember Cruz as an affable teen with a winning smile.
“Very proud of him,” said Ken Rhinesmith, a former neighbor.
Cruz himself has said football always provided a safety net, a way to avoid the dangerous pitfalls of growing up.
And now in the buildup to the biggest game of his career to date, his former coach shared some advice.
“Stay focused, “ Wimberly said. “Realize this is the biggest game of your life and think big.”