EL PASO, Texas - Hundreds gathered at the Crestview Funeral Home in east El Paso on Monday to say their final farewell to Eddie Cruz, the former Eastwood football star who died on Labor Day in an apparent drowning near Silver City, New Mexico.
Cruz, 18, graduated from Eastwood High School back in June and was currently playing football at Western New Mexico University.
"Anyone that knew Eddie knew he could light up a room," Lauren West, a family friend, said. "Everyone he met or he knew, he affected all of them."
Cruz was a star on the field for the Troopers. His former teammates learned of his sudden death just days ahead of their biggest game of the year when Eastwood traveled to Frisco to take on Plano Senior in an already emotionally-charged contest. The team brought his No. 3 jersey with them to Frisco.
"I felt him with us that night, for sure," starting quarterback Chris Castaneda said. "I was holding his jersey and I knew he was right there with me."
After the game, the Troopers gathered around the symbolic Dallas Cowboys star at midfield and laid Cruz's No. 3 jersey in the middle of the star. Cruz was a huge Philadelphia Eagles fan, a rival of the Cowboys.
"I knew he was happy. He was happy to be there, happy to be with us one more time."
And while Cruz was there spiritually with the Troopers that night, he never had the chance to suit up with the Western New Mexico Mustangs, where he had earned a football scholarship. Despite his short time there, he made his time impactful.
"What I got off of Eddie in the short time that I knew him was just that in regards to any bad situation it was just about being happy and living life and being the greatest guy he could be," Tariq Jordan, a Mustangs teammate, said.
Friends and family say Cruz accomplished just that.
"I love him, I miss him," West said.
"You evolved as a man, son," Cruz's trainer Eddie Garcia said as he looked up to the sky. "That's what I'm proud about it. That's what I'm proud about you. You evolved as a man."