It all comes together for De La Cruz

Kai De La Cruz

The University of Louisville football team had a bunch of players step up in the season-opening 49-7 win over Ohio University. Among the stars for the Cardinals was junior wide receiver Kai De La Cruz.

Kai De La Cruz came into the new season for the University of Louisville football team with a new name, new hairdo and last week picked up a new number.

It all added up to a new start for the junior wide receiver.

De La Cruz, who went by Kai Dominguez last season, led the Cardinals' in receiving yards with four catches for 116 yards and two touchdowns in a 49-7 blowout of Ohio University on Sunday.

"It just took me a while to get the mental aspect of the game, to really understand the playbook," De La Cruz said. "Now, I feel like a quarterback out there. I know everything that's going on with every position."

Junior quarterback Teddy Bridgewater said De La Cruz has come "a long, long way," since last season. He bounced back and forth from cornerback and wide receiver for a couple of years and had just one catch last season.

But in the offseason De La Cruz already had a Mohawk and decided after the Sugar Bowl last year that he needed a little color. So, he died it red. His teammates call him Ketchup or as Bridgewater said, "Coach Strong calls him Rhianna."

"Me and (Damian Copeland) talked about it, I already had a Mohawk," he said. "And I was like, ‘let me dye it and see what happens.' I like it."

Next was his name. De La Cruz opted to change his name to his father's last name because he said he grew up with his father and "I always wanted to change it, so I just decided to change it."

The final change was his number. He changed it last week from No. 87, which he had for two years, to No. 12.

U of L coach Charlie Strong and offensive coordinator Shawn Watson both predicted in the weeks before the opener that De La Cruz would be a sleeper on this offense loaded with weapons this season.

"He just grew up," Strong said. "He started realizing that he was going to do things our way. He always had the ability. If you ever watched his skill."

On Sunday, De La Cruz finally delivered.

De La Cruz, who also returns punts, caught a 40-yard TD from Bridgewater on his first catch of the season to make it 28-0.

He added a 30-yard TD catch from Will Gardner in the fourth quarter.

"It was all mental for him," senior Damian Copeland said. "But he's worked hard and he's been doing that all camp. The Mohawks are representing."

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