CHARLESTON, S.C. – Charleston Southern senior linebacker Zane Cruz figures to make his 30th career start when the Bucs kick off conference play Saturday at Presbyterian. An in-depth knowledge of the defense has afforded him most of those opportunities.
"I think that's what's gotten me here to the place I'm at now," said Cruz, who leads CSU with five tackles for loss this season. "I think that's one of the main reasons I'm playing college football. I'm not a great athlete, I'm not big, I'm not super-fast but I know the game and I know the game well."
Cruz used those smarts to earn Second Team All-Big South honors last year, overcoming an early season injury in the process. The Yulee, Fla., native was the Bucs' third-leading tackler in his first season as a starter in 2015, helping CSU to its first-ever playoff appearance. It was a moment in his 2014 freshman year, though, that still comes to mind first for Cruz.
"The Citadel game freshman year was huge," Cruz recalled of the Bucs' 20-18 home win over the crosstown rival Bulldogs. "Our starting mike linebacker, Zac Johnston, got hurt and I had to go in for a couple of plays. Just how big that game was for us and how packed our stands were and how loud they were was a lot of fun. The first thing I think about in my college career is definitely that game."
Below are some of Cruz's other thoughts as CSU goes after its league record eight consecutive road conference win this Saturday.
Q&A with senior linebacker Zane Cruz
Q: What's been the biggest adjustment with a somewhat new defensive scheme, and how do you think the defense has acclimated to it over the first month of the season?
A: I think the biggest adjustment is just getting acclimated to the whole new scheme in and of itself. I'd definitely say I feel we've done well adjusting to it. As far as my role, it's similar, especially coverage wise. Gap responsibilities are a little different but other than that, for the most part, it's similar.
Q: How much fun is it to play as part of an experienced front seven?
A: I love it. I feel like we have the best front seven in the country. Playing with those guys in front of me just gives me a sense of comfort, knowing that they're gonna do their jobs. It gives me comfort that the guys next to me and the guys behind me are gonna do their jobs as well. It's been really fun.
Q: How would you assess where the team stands with conference play beginning?
A: I feel like these past four or five weeks, we've had our ups and downs. I feel like I could definitely tell Monday and Tuesday that we're locking it in and we're prepared for PC. This is our first conference game and we're gonna have some non-conference games throughout conference play but I think for the most part, we're locked in, ready to go and focused.
Q: How did you end up coming to CSU?
A: I wasn't recruited heavily. Coach (Marcus) Woodson recruited me, like a month or two before Signing Day. They said they really liked me and wanted me in for a visit. I came up for a visit and I just loved the atmosphere of all the guys. They all loved on me and the coaches loved on me and it seemed like a great place to be.
Q: Who are some of your best friends on the team?
A: Definitely Bob (Ruff), David (Kennedy) and Nick Sands. I came in with those guys and we've just been close ever since. We hang out all the time. David's actually my roommate and Bobby's my suitemate. Since we've come in, we've become brothers, really. I can honestly say that those guys are gonna be standing at my wedding one day so that's pretty cool. A lot of good times that have made the experience here special.