Football has been a family affair for Cruz Temple.
Temple started playing the game at age seven, following in the footsteps of his father and older brother. His dad, Tony, was a walk-on player at the University of South Carolina and is now an assistant coach at Cruz’s high school in Abbeville, South Carolina. Brother Nate was a Shrine Bowl All-Star game participant at Abbeville and is now a redshirt freshman defensive end at Pittsburgh.
“I’ve been playing football and learning from my Dad since I was little,’’ Temple said. “My brother has been a huge role model. He showed the way to how to get to where I am now.’’
Cruz Temple is now a recruited Football Bowl Subdivision athlete himself, drawing scholarship offers from programs such as Air Force, Army, Coastal Carolina, Georgia Southern, Georgia State and Navy. But it was a close relationship Temple was able to build with the coaching staff at East Carolina that earned the Pirates a verbal commitment from the 5-foot-11, 205-pound safety on June 10.
East Carolina was one of the first major schools to start actively recruiting Temple soon after he helped Abbeville to a 13-1 finish and berth in the state 2-A semifinals where the four-time defending state champion Panthers were upset by Saluda, 32-28. Temple was a major contributor, starting at safety and working on offense as a short-yardage back.
Despite missing three games with an ankle injury. Temple still managed 35 tackles, two tackles for loss, had two pass breakups and a fumble recovery during his junior campaign. The performance earned him a spot on the All-Lakelands region team as well as first-team All-State status as chosen by the South Carolina High School Coaches’ Association.
East Carolina extended a scholarship offer to Temple in April, so the majority of his recruitment occurred during the COVID-19 outbreak.
“That definitely made it strange,’’ Temple said. “But ECU had been in contact with me before I had any offers. It was one of the first (schools) to show interest, so I always felt they believed in me. Once they gave me the offer, I started thinking about them a lot and they were always at the top of my board. Once I got a virtual tour and saw the campus and all the new equipment and weight room and all of that, it kind of blew me away.’’
Temple played four games on the junior varsity at Abbeville as a freshman before joining the varsity for its run to a third straight state 2-A crown. He helped the Panthers to an undefeated 14-0 season and fourth straight state title as a sophomore.
“We’ve known about Cruz for a long time,’’ Abbeville coach Jamie Nichols said. “As a kid growing up, he was always a little smaller than other kids, but he was always real fast and you could tell he was an explosive athlete. I think his explosiveness is the first thing that really stuck out to me. He plays at a different speed than anyone else on the field.’’
That’s quite a contrast to Temple’s older brother, Nate, who is a significantly larger athlete at 6-4, 230 pounds.
Two totally different athletes,’’ Nichols said. “Cruz is more explosive and fast. Nate was taller and more of a technician type player. He’s not as fast as Cruz.’’
Despite their different physical makeup, the Temple brothers are a close pair, especially when it comes to football.
“My brother showed me the work you have to put in, the mindset you have to have to be a good football player,’’ Cruz Temple said. “When I was going through my recruitment we had a lot of long talks and he helped me with that. He told me just to feel it. You’ll know when it’s right. Make sure you go somewhere where you are wanted, and I felt wanted at ECU.’’
Cruz Temple has been recruited by East Carolina to play safety, although he’ll probably see action at Abbeville this season at linebacker. “I feel like I’m definitely going to be one of the hardest hitters,’’ Temple said in describing his strengths. “But I also know football from coming up with my dad, so I’m smart with it. I give it everything I’ve got every time I step on the field.’’
Like all athletes, staying in shape during the COVID-19 outbreak has been difficult for Temple. But he’s continued to train in a garage weight room at his home and twice a week at Apex Athletic Performance in Columbia, SC. He works there with Paul Beckwith, Apex’s Supervisor of Sports Performance.
“I work there on explosiveness and speed training twice a week,’’ Temple said. “A lot of (South) Carolina players go there.’’
Temple is the third secondary prospect to join ECU’s recruiting Class of 2021. The Pirates already had verbal commitments from safety James Wright from Lakewood, SC, High School and safety Jalen Clyatt from Sandy Spring, MD.