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From the Hart: Mass. appeal

There are plenty of connections between the Giants and Patriots heading into next Sunday's big game.

But none closer to home at Gillette Stadium than the relationship between New England safety James Ihedigbo and Giants rising star slot receiver Victor Cruz.

Both players played their college ball at UMass, not exactly an SEC-like pipeline school for NFL prospects. But more than just playing together, the older player Ihedigbo actually hosted Cruz on his recruiting visit to the Amherst campus.

Apparently Cruz, a star at Paterson Catholic High School in New Jersey, enjoyed his time with Ihedigbo as decided to attend the school and went on to catch 131 passes for 1,958 yards and 11 touchdowns for UMass.

Like Ihedgibo, who won a job as an undrafted player with the Jets in 2008, Cruz went to New York to begin his professional career as an undrafted rookie with the Giants last fall. He played reserve action in three games in 2010 before landing on IR with a hamstring issue.

But he exploded in his second season this fall to lead the Giants with 82 catches for 1,536 yards with nine touchdowns to earn second-team All-Pro honors.

Ihedigbo says "it's amazing" to be battling his former UMass teammate on the biggest stage the football world has to offer.

Did Ihedgibo learn any secrets to stopping Cruz while working with him on the UMass practice field.

"I don't think there's any secrets to it," Ihedigbo said of Cruz' success. "The guy is a phenomenal player. He's having a great season. He's a great player for them."

UMass will make the jump to the FBS next fall in the MAC. It will play its home games at Gillette Stadium, the very field where Ihedigbo battled it with Cruz during the regular season.

Now the two UMass alums will go at it again, this time with the Lombardi Trophy on the line. Not bad for a couple former Minutemen.

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