TAMPA — Jeff Kruse will probably be at Princeton next fall, if he’s not at Harvard or Cornell or Georgetown, playing football and studying, but mostly studying.
He’s smart enough to know that’s a good thing, and he is grateful.
But the Gulf High standout, while smarter than most, is just like any other 18-year-old who has played football his whole life.
He looks at the college game and imagines himself playing on national TV, in a super conference, competing against All-Americans.
So Saturday, Kruse gave big-time college football one last chance to notice him.
“I’m so pumped, it’s ridiculous,” he said Friday while driving to Tampa to meet with coaches to go over the playbook.
Competing in the pay-your-way Blue-Grey National All-Star Classic at Raymond James Stadium — sponsors helped defray most of his cost, which ran some players nearly $1,500 — Kruse was one of roughly 80 high school all-stars from 14 states looking for next-level love.
“A lot of it sometimes depends on where you play,” said Kruse, a starter on the offensive and defensive lines for a Gulf team that went 1-9 this past season in New Port Richey, a place clearly off the beaten recruiting trail even though he was able to draw interest from a number of Division I-A schools, including Miami.
Kruse wonders if someone might be watching online, someone who needs a 6-foot-3, 280-pound lineman that is a terrific leader, smart and can run a sub-5.0-second 40 yards.
This game was nowhere near as flashy as the more publicized, corporately sponsored and star-studded games that Under Armour and U.S. Army recently put on, nor was it televised by ESPN or NBC. But Kruse merrily emailed the link to the livestream broadcast to every college coach he has ever talked to.
Kruse, who has an offer from Eastern Michigan, is not delusional enough to expect a call from Jimbo Fisher this morning. But what player turns down a chance for one more game?
Not Robinson’s Byron Pringle, who has an offer from Bethune-Cookman but hoped to impress a few other schools on the fence.
Not Jesuit’s Tommy Eveld, who has no offers and who lost his last high school game after throwing four interceptions; he started Saturday with a long completion to Pringle that led to a TD pass.
Not Newsome’s Royce Easley, who had an interception and who has three offers from Division I-AA schools, but would rather have one from a BCS school.
And not Jeff Kruse, though he has it better than most.
Truth is, it would probably take a heck of an offer to steer Kruse, away from the Ivy League and schools like it.
He is still waiting on admissions — he said he’s 99 percent of the way through the process at Princeton — “and I know I’m high up on their board, either one or two at defensive tackle.”
Kruse is a bright, well-spoken young man. He’s a straight-A student, because his mother, Christine, and father, Christopher, made sure he had academics and sports in the right order.
“I’d love to get a big-time offer,” he said. “But it’s all about making your best choice post-college. The odds of me making the NFL are not good. But the amount of jobs that graduates of these big-time academic schools have, the big networks they have, those are statistics that are in my favor.”
Kruse has enjoyed the recruiting process. Happy with the interest shown by colleges, happy with his choices. He’d be happy at Eastern Michigan or Princeton, and he’d be happy at a bigger school.
So Saturday night, Kruse gave big-time college football one last chance to notice him.
John C. Cotey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.