It may seem hard to believe, but Napoleon senior Trey Cruz’ love affair with soccer wasn’t one at first sight. It took a little time to develop the passion he now has for the sport.

“My dad forced me to play,” said Cruz. “I wanted to play football. My dad took me to my first practice and I cried because I wanted to be a running back or wide receiver.”

Cruz was 4-years old.

“After that first season, I really liked it,” added Cruz.

Cruz started right away for the Wildcats, earning a varsity letter his freshman season. He started for Napoleon every year after that.

“I never coached Trey when he was younger,” said Napoleon boys soccer coach Chris DelFavero. “I knew him because my daughter and him are in the same class. I knew he was an outgoing kid.

“He came in as a freshman and worked really hard, and that had a lot to do with why he is as good as he is,” added DelFaervo. “He also has an absolute joy for the game. He absolutely loves the game. That is a great combination to have.”

Cruz started his high school career playing forward and it seemed like he was going to be the Wildcats next great scorer, following in the footsteps of Brett Lauf, who set the career goal-scoring record at Napoleon.

“I was up there with Brett Lauf and I thought I was going to score 98 goals,” said Cruz. “Then my sophomore year they put me on defense. I wanted to do whatever to help the team. My junior year I am back on defense. So, I don’t think scoring goals is for me.”

DelFavero said moving Cruz from forward to defense might be the smartest coaching move he has ever made.

“We moved him to defense mainly because we were missing speed on defense, and that is something he has plenty of,” said DelFavero. “Plus, he is aggressive.

“Last year we were going to make him one of our main offensive players,” continued the Napoleon coach. “We made the switch back to defense and the team improved immediately. He reads the game so well and his speed really helps us on defense.”

Cruz said after adjusting his game he has embraced being the defensive stopper for the Wildcats.

“Obviously, you want to be the ‘it’ guy, scoring all the goals,” said Cruz. “Now I like being the guy that stops the other team’s ‘it’ guy and be the guy to help our guys become the ‘it’ guy for us.”

Along with the move to defense his sophomore season, Cruz began kicking for the Napoleon football team — a long-standing tradition of soccer players kicking for the football team.

“I was in the stands watching a football game as a freshman and (Napoleon football) coach (Tory) Strock comes up to me after the game and asks me if I was going to kick for them next year,” said Cruz. “I was scared, I didn’t know if I could even kick with pads on.”

Cruz has been a kick-off specialist for the Cats the past three seasons.

“Trey has a contagious personality,” said Strock. “He’s a blast to be around and he’s super talented. We’re fortunate that he’s part of our football program, especially since he really excels at soccer.”

Last week, Cruz missed his first high school game, having to sit out after injuring his shoulder playing a pick-up football game.

The last game he missed was in 10-and-under league when he was sick and his dad was his coach.

“I cried the whole time asking to be put in the game,” said Cruz.

This time Cruz saw a more beneficial approach to not playing — he coached.

“We specifically chose that side of the field to start the game so our bench was lined up with the defense,” said DelFavero. “Trey was out there directing guys, some who never played defense, where to go. He was coaching the guys to do what he does on the field.”

“I wanted to keep the energy up,” said Cruz.

Cruz, who plays soccer year round, maintains a 3.5 grade point average and plans to attend college in the fall, studying pre-med. He has not decided on a school or if he wants to continue to play soccer at the next level.

“I am definitely going to college,” said the son of Hector and Natasha Cruz of Napoleon. “If I play soccer, it has to be a perfect match.”

DelFavero said Cruz will be missed after this season.

“You come to one of our practices and in 30 seconds you know who the leader of the team is,” said DelFavero. “Some kids lead by example and others are more vocal. Trey is both. He is 100 percent what a team leader is.

“He has such a good personality,” added DelFavero. “He says more words per minute than anyone I know, but he is almost always in a good mood. He is just a joy to be around and that will be missed here.”

E-mail comments to jeffr@northwestsignal.net.

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