No matter who ultimately wins Super Bowl XLVI next Sunday night in Indianapolis, Chris Zardas will be a happy man.
A former star running back at St. John's Prep, Zardas was college football teammates at UMass Amherst with players from both teams: safety James Ihedigbo of the New England Patriots and wide receiver Victor Cruz of the New York Giants.
Cruz was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Giants in 2010 while Ihedigbo was released by the New York Jets this past summer and subsequently signed by the Patriots in August.
"It's awesome to have both of them playing in the Super Bowl. They're two really good kids," said Zardas, who was signed by the Philadelphia Eagles after the 2010 NFL draft, but later released. "James was on our 2006 team that went to the (Division 1-AA) national championship, and Victor was my year (of graduation, in 2010). I was a redshirt freshman when Ihedigbo was a senior, so I'm a lot closer to Cruz because I played with him a lot longer."
Zardas couldn't be happier for the two former Minutemen who will be battling for the Vince Lombardi Trophy 10 days from now.
In just his second year with the Giants, Cruz caught 82 passes for a team-record 1,536 receiving yards and nine touchdowns, earning Second Team NFL All-Pro honors. He also had 10 catches for 142 yards in last week's NFC championship win over the San Francisco 49ers in overtime.
"Cruz was always a very good player, but he had a rough time his freshman and sophomore years with some academic problems. His father died and he had to drop out of school for a while, but he got back on the right track his junior and senior years," recalled Zardas. "I'm not surprised at the catches he's making because I've seen him do it all along.