NEW PORT RICHEY – His Princeton cap was on, and his mother’s shriek filled the high school gym.
That’s when Gulf lineman Jeff Kruse pulled out his last signing day surprise.
The North Suncoast’s top lineman is headed to Cornell after a day-long drama that shocked the four generations of the Kruse family who joined him on signing day.
“He freaked me out so bad,” said his mother, Christine.
The 6-foot-3, 280-pound Kruse kept his college choice secret from his family after committing earlier this month. He fed the suspense by wearing Harvard and Eastern Michigan gear at school during the day.
Only a handful of people knew his choice, including three friends who were with him when he got the phone call from Cornell’s coaches saying he had been accepted to the Ivy League school.
“Once we got that, it was game over from there,” Kruse said.
And game on.
On Wednesday afternoon, Kruse pulled out a brown bag from under his table, by his shaking right foot. He pulled out Princeton cards and slipped on a Tigers shirt and cap. His mother screamed.
“I really thought his mom was going to have a stroke there for a minute,” Bucs coach Tom Carter said.
But three of Kruse’s friends – dressed in black shirts or suits and sunglasses - yelled, “No!” from the back of the gym. They walked down the stairs and handed Kruse a briefcase. He opened it to find a red Cornell T-shirt and a gray ski cap – perfect for the cold winters in Ithaca, N.Y.
“You’ve got a bunch of IB kids,” Kruse said. “You put the brains together for a little bit, they’re bound to come up with something.”
Kruse had bigger offers, including a chance to play Division I ball with Eastern Michigan in the MAC, but said there’s an “academic calling” to play in the Ivy League. The all-conference offensive and defensive lineman plans to major in business and minor in international relations while playing defensive tackle.
Other Buccaneers who signed were:
Lea Burbridge: PHCC, volleyball
Amber Maxey: Santa Fe, softball
Lauren Thompson: Loyola Marymount (Calif.), softball
Judith Young: PHCC, cross country