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LB Uani 'Unga ready for opportunity vs. Cowboys


Keep an eye on these five players as the Giants face the Cowboys on Sunday

Uani 'Unga put his family in a rough spot.

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He had a wife and three kids, but no job. After tearing his ACL in the final game of his senior season at BYU in 2013, the linebacker went undrafted, only to land a short gig on the Giants' practice squad five days before the 2014 season ended.

However, the franchise signed him to an aptly named reserve/future contract. Starting middle linebacker Jon Beason was ruled out of Sunday's opener against Dallas, making 'Unga the next man up.

"We've prepared for that," said coach Tom Coughlin, who did not name an official starter for the Cowboys game.

"We've had a preseason and a good full day yesterday with 'Unga in that position. So, I think a young guy, obviously who has not had that much experience in there, but he'll give great effort."

'Unga kicked his campaign for a roster spot into gear in mid-August. On the day of his first preseason game, he tweeted: "Time for this job interview!"

'Unga recorded three tackles against the Bengals in his debut, going on to lead the Giants in stops for the next three games against the Jaguars, Jets and Patriots.

But in between the final two games, 'Unga had to sweat out the first round of roster cuts. He, as always, was cautious. His wife, Lachelle, needed to prop him up.

"She believes in me more than I do myself," 'Unga said at the time.

As it turns out, the Giants do, too.

Unlike draft day, a player doesn't want to hear his phone ring on cut-down days. For 'Unga, there was silence on Sept. 1 when the roster went to 75 players. The same went for last Saturday when the 53-man roster was set.

Less than a week later, Beason's knee injury opened the door for 'Unga in Week 1. After leading the Giants with 24 tackles in the preseason, he built up confidence in his ability to handle the role.

"All throughout college, I always had butterflies," 'Unga said. "But lately, I was almost worried that I wasn't getting butterflies. I think I'm more ready, I guess. That's why I'm not getting [as many] butterflies as I usually have."

But football isn't about just one individual. 'Unga had to prove himself to the other 10 men he'll be lining up with on Sunday.

"It's kind of hard to play when you're not sure what other guys are thinking of you," he said. "I'm the new guy and considered like a rookie. But the guys, they seem like they respond well to me in the huddle, and so then [I'm] a lot more comfortable in the spot."
That included the player whose spot he could be holding.

"First off, I think he's tough," Beason said. "I think he's an extremely intelligent football player, and that's what makes him, him. He takes coaching extremely well and when you see a guy who wants it, you want to help him out. The game is bigger than all of us, we're all just trying to do the best we can for the time that we have, and if you can pass something on to somebody who cares as much as he does, it makes you feel good inside.

"I love to see him go out there and make plays, to get guys lined up, make checks, and be confident because he is kind of a mild-mannered person. To get him out there, making checks, and screaming, it's good to see. I was happy when he made the team and now he's here and he's going to help us out tremendously."

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