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Undrafted rookies live the dream of making Giants' roster

Posted Sep 5, 2017

Calvin Munson, Shane Smith and Chad Wheeler made the Giants’ 53-man roster as undrafted free agents: 


EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Never before had Calvin Munson and Shane Smith been so nervous to hear their phones buzz. It was about 2 o’clock Saturday afternoon, cutdown day in the NFL, and they each suspected the calls were from the Giants, alerting them that they had been waived. Turns out the calls were for the same reasons, but not the one they feared.

“I (thought), ‘Oh no,’” Munson said. “The call was from Grubhub. I forgot that I ordered food. The guy said, ‘Yo, I got your sandwiches.’ I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I have never been so happy to hear your voice.’”

“I ordered some food, so I had a couple random phone calls and my heart stopped beating,” Smith said. “At that point, I thought I was getting that phone call that everyone gets.”

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Munson, Smith and Chad Wheeler never did get a call from the Giants, and on the day NFL teams are releasing dozens of players from their rosters, no call is good news. Munson, a linebacker, joined Smith, a fullback, and Wheeler, a tackle, as rookie free agents to make the Giants’ 53-man roster. Each of them played collegiate football in California: Munson at San Diego State, Smith at San Jose State, and Wheeler at USC.

Like all undrafted newcomers, they faced seemingly long odds to make the roster when they reported to the team in the spring. But they impressed the coaches with their skill, smarts and determination, and each has a chance to be in uniform when the Giants open their season Sunday night in Dallas.

“Some days were better than others,” Munson said of his journey. “Some days, I was like, ‘You know, I am getting the hang of it.’ Some days, I was like, ‘I am not getting the hang of it.’ I just try to take it day-by-day and get better than the last day, and not make the same mistakes. I just try to grow each day.”

Munson, 6-0 and 241 pounds, played in 52 games at San Diego State, where his career totals were 301 tackles (159 solo), 36.5 tackles for loss, 18.0 sacks, seven interceptions – including a school-record three he returned for touchdowns – four forced fumbles, and two fumble recoveries



The 6-1, 241-pound Smith learned from Twitter than he had not been waived and needed to report to practice on Monday.

“It was a mix of emotions - happy, excited, anxious and, before that, nervous,” he said. “I was lucky and the coaches liked me during fall camp and I got a spot on the team, and I am very excited.

“I have always been confident in my own physical ability. I have been playing fullback for years, I know what I can do. Coaches have seen what I can do. I can block, I can catch, I can play special teams. It was just a matter of if they wanted to keep somebody like me on the team with my position and, luckily, they wanted to.”

Smith has long been an underdog. He said he left Los Gatos (Calif.) High School with “zero” Division I offers, and received a scholarship only because another player was kicked off the San Jose State team. He arrived on campus as a linebacker and switched to fullback after spring practice in 2013. Smith played in 48 games with 27 starts for the Spartans, and was used primarily as a blocking back.

“You just keep your head down and keep working and then eventually someone is going to notice,” Smith said. “I always say a fullback is a glorified offensive lineman. You’re an offensive lineman that gets a running start. That definitely plays right into my skillset.”

Unlike Munson and Smith, Wheeler was not unnerved by a food delivery call. He spent Saturday in the Manhattan apartment of his girlfriend, Sofia Jimenez, a USC graduate who works in finance and preceded him to the metropolitan area. Wheeler also learned he was still on the team via social media.

“I was sweating it out a little bit,” Wheeler said. “It’s a stressful time. You know that rosters are going to get cut in half, so you just pray and hopefully you are on the right side of the coin.

“It’s surreal (to be on the roster). It came from a lot of hard work, dedication, teammates helping me out, coaches, family - just very grateful to be here.”

Coach Ben McAdoo said Saturday that Wheeler had the talent to be a middle-round draft choice. Wheeler, who started 45 of 47 games at USC, agrees.

“I expected to be drafted, but it didn’t happen,” he said. “That wasn’t my day. I was a little disappointed, but I just kept that chip on my shoulder throughout OTA’s and camp and these last four (preseason) games to really push me to my limits. I had to keep working, get back to the grind, and it paid off.”

Wheeler doesn’t know if he will be inactive or wear a uniform on Sunday. If it’s the latter, he will begin a season in AT&T Stadium for the second year in a row. In 2016, the Trojans were routed by Alabama, 52-6.

“I don’t want to remember that at all,” Wheeler said. “It’s like déjà vu. But we are playing against the Cowboys this time and I just can’t wait.”