Sweet Taste of Success

After the Giants' impressive 17-3 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Giants Stadium on Oct. 29, New York's number one draft pick, defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka, returned from the shower to a large crowd assembled around his locker.

He looked a lot more confused than he did in defending the Buccaneers' schemes earlier that day. Just then, one of the reporters turned to Kiwanuka and said, "Better get used to this, my friend. Better get used to this."

If Kiwanuka's first professional start is any kind of indication, the 6-2, 262-pound rookie out of Boston College had better get used to it quicker than perhaps even he anticipated. Kiwanuka finished second on the team with six total tackles, third with four solo tackles, had one hurry and added in a key sack and forced fumble.

In doing so, he looked like the man he was replacing, injured Pro Bowl defensive end Osi Umenyiora. While it's way too early for comparisons, that didn't stop some reporters from doing it. In fact, you could even go so far as to call him an overnight sensation.

"Kiwanuka's a rookie, but he's not your regular rookie," said veteran Pro Bowl defensive end Michael Strahan, a man who knows a thing or two about being thrust into the spotlight. "From the time he stepped on the field in training camp, you could see he could play."

"You know, he's a first round pick – that's how we expect him to play," linebacker Antonio Pierce said. "He was out there and early on there was a chance for him to make a big play and he did. That's how we expect him to play."

Great expectations – no pun intended – even for a number one draft pick. However, Kiwanuka seemed to bask in the hype, which was probably a lot better than the questions he heard after being drafted by the Giants.

"It's definitely satisfying," smiled Kiwanuka after his first professional start. "Whether or not people thought I should have been drafted, my goal was to play my best. Osi's a Pro Bowler, and I'm not saying I equaled that out there, but I definitely think I played well."

That would be putting it mildly. As Kiwanuka continued his post-game press conference, the reporters from the big dailies and even a few national people stopped by to say hello. Giants play-by-play man Bob Papa dropped in to get the rookie for the post-game show. Then, Jimmy Roberts from NBC's Football Night America came over.

Are you ready for your closeup, Mr. Kiwanuka?

"It's the biggest day of my career," Kiwanuka said to the throng of reporters. "It's definitely the biggest day of my professional career to date."

Head Coach Tom Coughlin, who's not too quick to heap praise on the undeserving, was impressed as well.

"He's a good young football player," said Coughlin. "We've tried to get him in there so far. I would just say, off the surface, he played very well."

Tiki Barber, another darling of the media, was equally impressed.

"You hate to lose a guy like Osi, but Kiwanuka really filled in phenomenally," Barber said. "I think that that's a credit to our personnel and our drafting to get a guy like that just in case and it really helped (against the Buccaneers)."

With all the hype and attention, who could blame Kiwanuka for being a little reprehensive, but the rookie was just pleased to be able to contribute to the team.

"It felt really good, coming into the game," he said. "I didn't want there to be a dropoff level (from Osi). And, I wasn't just looking for sacks; I wanted to play well overall.

"It's about the little things in football. There's just so many things. It's still football, but there's so many small things you need to pick up."

Still, he was happy to play well and to finally notch his first NFL sack.

"I enjoyed it a lot," beamed the man who holds the Boston College record for sacks with 37.5. "The first one. I had a long time to get ready for it."

But, one thing he hasn't had a long time to get ready for is all the hype and attention that was heaped on him after his first start.

"It was a little weird, but I've seen it happen to other guys before," he said. "I'm just glad it was for a good reason this time."

With New York hopeful that Umenyiora will be back for the Bears game, Kiwanuka has likely earned himself more snaps out of a reserve role, if nothing else. But he's also already earned the trust of his coaches and teammates. And that alone speaks volumes about how far the final pick in the opening round has progressed. More play like he's shown recently and Kiwanuka will be constantly in the spotlight.

It looks like he had better get used to it, that's for sure.

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