Charleston Southern Football welcomes Evan Cruz to their family

By Mark A. Leon - Photography by Craig Bailey / Florida Today
By Mark A. Leon – Photography by Craig Bailey / Florida Today

On November 14, 2015, Evan Cruz, a sought after recruit for Charleston Southern University Football, was invited to attend the Charleston Southern Saturday afternoon game against Liberty and visit the campus. On the way to the game from Viera, Florida his father, cousin and Evan made a brief stop outside of Savannah, GA. On the way back to the highway, they were T-boned and sent spinning off the road.

Evan’s father was rushed to the local hospital for a possible rib injury while Evan and his cousin were examined for precautionary measures and spent the majority of that Saturday in the ER. Evan and his family did not complete that trip, but something happened that remained with Evan and his family long after that day. After contacting the coaching staff regarding his accident, they showed genuine concern for Evan and his family by checking in on them even well after the Liberty game. The idea of family and values that embodies the Charleston Southern Football team never left Evan.

The week before signing day Evan remained in Florida and had still not made it to Charleston Southern University. He had yet to commit to where he would play the following year though Columbia University, the University of Pennsylvania, and Florida Institute of Technology were actively pursuing him. A visit Photograhy by Ernie Cruzfrom Charleston Southern Buccaneer Quarterback Coach and Florida Recruiter, Mark Tucker to Viera High School, made the decision easier for the future physical therapist. Coach Tucker along with the rest of the staff knew that Evan was the right “fit” for the university. With a strong faith system, solid academic focus (carrying a 3.8 GPA), a balance of mental and physical health and a future career plan in place, Evan symbolized the player the coaching staff knew would be an integral part of the winning team he wants to build.

After a few days of deep family discussions, Evan committed to the Charleston Southern team. Coach Tucker cautioned Evan about making his decision without even seeing the campus however weighing all the factors and remembering the incredible outreach after his accident, Evan knew this was the right move.

Just two days after seeing the campus for the first time and three weeks after committing to Charleston Southern, Charleston Daily sat down with Evan, and his parent’s, Ernie and April, at Carmella’s on East Bay Street on a sunny Friday afternoon to discuss the past, present and future of one of the newest Buccaneers.

Evan’s Childhood

Evan’s football career began when he was 5 years old, in a town known more for soccer than football. With his father Ernie Cruz coaching his little league youth football team, Evan and five of his closest friends developed leadership skills, strength, discipline and a lifelong commitment to the game.

At age five, Evan didn’t know that someday, he would step onto the field as a member of two remaining teams playing in the state championship. That became a reality for him and 27 other graduating seniors on December 11, 2015, the last football game Evan played before making a life changing move to Charleston this fall.

Photography by Ernie CruzEntering the Viera High School football program as high-school freshmen, Evan’s class, led by Coach Kevin Mays, carried on its back a team that was 12 – 30 the previous four years and when the final whistle blew at the end of the 2012 season, the Hawks managed only one victory. How does one recover from such losses and rebuild? Possibly by remembering their youth football coach’s words that he instilled – follow your heart, believe in yourself and never stop fighting.

That year, 2013, Evan’s high school team went from a one win season to 8 – 2. The 2014 and 2015 seasons, they were also victorious with 9-1 and 10-5 records, respectively.

The dramatic turnaround for the team led by Coach Mays and staff brought hope and rejuvenation to the town of Viera. Fan support began to stretch outside of Viera to neighboring counties and even from Allen, TX ( Viera played an out of state match-up against national ranked Allen Eagles earlier in the season)following this string of wins with rally cries all the way to the state championship.

Viera Hawks Football stands behind the mission: Unity defines our willingness to work as a team to put forth the effort to win the battle. These are strong words that will only lead to success with unwavering leadership, confidence and fight. What Ernie Cruz embedded in his little league youth football team ten years earlier was equally enforced during their time representing Viera Hawks Football.

Today, Evan enters into a program that has lived a similar storyline. From 2007 through 2012, Charleston Southern went 26 – 41; since then they have been 28 – 10 with big match-ups against Florida and Florida State slated for the next two seasons. With so many similarities in the programs and a coaching staff that feels like family, Evan’s decision to join Charleston Southern continues to be reinforced internally.

Evan has now visited his future campus, and is due to attend classes and start practice in the summer semester. He is settling in with his teammates and knows they are growing into one big family that truly cares about one another. Ernie and April Cruz feel comfortable with the Christian fellowship available at Charleston Southern as well as the comfortable hospitality offered by the city of Charleston. A warm genuineness permeated our interview with April, Ernie and Evan. They were very generous with their stories and enthusiastic about the future. An adage emerged several times during our conversation; everything happens for a reason. Faith and goodwill brought together Evan Cruz and Charleston Southern University. The partnership of a young student athlete and a growing football program will lead to a bright future for both.

Photography by Cathy Heinz / Viera Vision