On Monday Night Football, the country was wowed by undrafted Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz, who became the first receiver to score three touchdowns in a preseason game since Terrell Owens did it in 1998.
Until a couple of weeks ago, when Cruz' name was first tossed about as legitimately making the team, the University of Massachusetts product was a virtual secret to almost everyone in the industry.
Except Abu Toppin and Jack Huntington, that is.
Behind every come-from-nowhere prospect there is often a great story about the men behind that man.
The story of Victor Cruz, if he makes this team, will be great. But the story of Toppin and Huntington could turn out to be just as good.
Toppin and Huntington are partners at Reliance Sports Management, out of Tewksbury, Massachusetts. In recent years, the two have scored NFL clients by recruiting in the East Coast, where high profile agents have traditionally stayed away.
The two have found on-the-fringe players from small schools. They have typically, at best, gone undrafted and been signed to free agent contracts.
It doesn't take a math degree to understand that, in order to stay in the cutthroat business that is the agent business, Reliance Sports must find their diamond in the rough. And then — perhaps the harder part — hold on to him as a client.
Cruz just might be that diamond.
Toppin and Huntington worked hard for Cruz. They showed up to at least four UMass games this year to prove how serious they were about him. They saw he wasn't highly touted in the scouting reports, but they saw with their own eyes how amazing he was; 262 yards on 13 receptions, as a junior in the team's game against James Madison.
When the two met with Cruz, they pitched the small operation they had. They would pay attention to him. They would get him ready with a trainer in Florida just like the big agents do for their clients. They were straight up with Cruz. They wouldn’t be financing his Escalade. He wouldn't be living on the water in a beach house. And they tried to convey to him that big-time agents couldn’t affect his draft position.
Cruz took their pitch and signed on the dotted line.
He ran a 4.47 on his pro day and had eight teams call. But when Cruz didn't get picked, only the Giants called and offered him a 3-year contract that would pay him $320,000 this year if he stayed on the active roster.
The story you will hear might be about Cruz and his success, but the story that's just as intriguing will be for Toppin and Huntington to hold on to Cruz as a client.
The standard 3 percent commission on this year's salary is $9,600 — not even enough to cover the costs of recruiting Cruz. The money comes if the UMass product defies the odds further and becomes a great NFL player. And as that becomes clearer, more and more agents will be swarming around Cruz, who at his discretion can go to whoever he wants, whenever he wants.
It’s why Toppin and Huntington have to feel a bittersweet feeling from their client’s night being so big. Monday Night Football. In the New York market. Against the Jets.
How loyal is Cruz? And will Toppin and Huntington be able to prove they can do what the well-known names in the industry can do? Only time will tell.
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