*Justin Pugh and D.J. Fluker were once on the same Senior Bowl team, now on the same professional offensive line: *
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. –Justin Pugh and D.J. Fluker made history together at the 2013 Senior Bowl when they became the first non-seniors invited to play in the game.
Three months later, both players were selected in the first round of the NFL Draft, Fluker No. 11 by the San Diego Chargers, and Pugh 19th by the Giants.
Their parallel football journeys brought them together before they were separated across an entire continent, and now have them working together side-by-side. When the Giants host the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday, Pugh and Fluker will start at right tackle and guard, respectively, the positions they've manned for most of the previous two games.
"We always joke around, because we were in the Senior Bowl together," Pugh said this week. "We were the first two juniors playing in the Senior Bowl, so we had to do some interviews back in the day. Now we are always talking about how crazy it is that we're playing on the same O-line. We were drafted a couple picks apart in the first round back in '13, so we always talk about that and how we never thought we'd be playing next to each other."
"I told Justin two first-round picks being on the same side of each other, and he looked at me and started to laugh, like, 'Fluke, I never thought this day would come,'" Fluker said. "And I said, 'Me neither.' I thought we would both be playing on separate teams, but it's pretty cool to play with him now. Great dude and he's always trying to motivate. I like that about him. He's a great dude for that.'
Pugh and Fluker were permitted to go to the Senior Bowl because they had earned their degrees by the end of their junior seasons, the former in finance at Syracuse, and the latter in health studies at Alabama. Fluker didn't play in the game, because he was still nursing injuries from the Crimson Tide's national championship game victory against LSU.
But as a Senior Bowl groundbreaker he made the short trip from Tuscaloosa to Mobile to participate in Media Day, where he met Pugh.
"He was a great dude," Fluker said. "Great dude to talk to for the day I was there. He said, 'I'm from Syracuse,' and we were going back and forth. It was a cool experience, the whole day was a cool experience, and now I play with this guy."
Pugh has been a stalwart on the Giants' offensive line, either as a tackle or guard, since his arrival four years ago. Like Pugh, Fluker started every game in which he played in his first four seasons with the Chargers, before signing as a free agent with the Giants on March 12.
"I needed a change," Fluker said. "I needed to get around a group of guys that were more about the team and what can we do better. We got guys, we go hard, and we are going to fight. When we come here, we know we're here for one job, and that's to get better. When we got guys like that that want to buy into that, it makes everything easier."
It wasn't easy for Fluker in the season opener in Dallas, when he was inactive for the first time in his career.
"It was real tough for me," he said. "I'm used to playing and it kind of got taken away from me. "I wanted to be out there with those guys, but it's just about being patient, wait for my time and things change. The best thing I can do is be positive and encouraging, and that's what I did until my time came. I'm playing now, so it feels great to play and be a part of this team and be a part of this unit."
Fluker first saw action on special teams for two games before starting at Tampa Bay on Oct. 1. The following week, he played most of the game at right guard and the Giants rushed for a season-high 152 yards vs. the Chargers. Last week, he started and they ran for 148 yards in their first victory of the season in Denver.
"I'm very excited about that," Fluker said.
"He's playing physical," coach Ben McAdoo said of Fluker. "The thing we like about D.J. is he gives you everything he has. He's a physical player. He's tough. Has great enthusiasm for the game and glad we have him. Any time you have big guys with enthusiasm and a passion to play the game and to be physical and come off the ball and run the ball, it helps."
Fluker is 6-5 and 345 pounds, and has an engaging personality that matches his girth.
"Fluke is a great guy," Pugh said. "He is the biggest human being I have ever been around. We got to get extra big doors put in so he can fit through them in the facility. I always joke around with him about that too, because he's just so damn big. He's like a size 20-something shoe, it's like nuts.
"He's brought great energy to the offensive line room and a competitiveness and a work ethic that has been good for us. I'm just so happy for him to get his opportunity and showcase what he can do, because he really is a good player."
And a player who has helped the Giants get their rushing attack untracked just when they needed it most.
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