Niko Lalos’ Giants debut got better after LeBron James shoutout

96

Niko Lalos’ day started with a Twitter name-drop from LeBron James and somehow only got better from there.

A few hours after King James sent his legion of 48 million followers scrambling to research the name, the Giants rookie defensive lineman made a diving interception and helped force another turnover in a 19-17 road win against the Cincinnati Bengals. Lalos was promoted from the practice squad on Saturday for an unforgettable NFL debut.

“First career [game], interception, shout-out from LeBron — I don’t think it gets better than that,” teammate Logan Ryan said. “He’s part of the early-risers crew. I think he was elevated today because we needed him, I think he was elevated because of his work ethic every day. I’m happy he was rewarded. It’s a great story.”

Lalos and James are products (13 years apart) of St. Vincent-St. Mary High School in Akron, Ohio — about 230 miles away from the site of Sunday’s game. When their alma mater tweeted about Lalos on Sunday morning, James retweeted, “Good luck out there Niko!” and a string of emojis.

Given a shot because the Giants were shorthanded on special teams — tight end Kaden Smith is on the COVID-19/reserve list — Lalos made the most of his limited defensive snaps, too.

Giants
Niko Lalos, who got support on Twitter from LeBron James, celebrates his interception.AP (2)

Lalos hustled to the second level of the defense to catch a tipped pass by fellow rookie Darnay Holmes. He tucked his arms to avoid the ball hitting the turf in a way that would make Sterling Shepard proud.

And Lalos held up Bengals tight end Drew Sample, allowing Ryan to be the textbook second-tackler in and force and recover a fumble. The two second-half takeaways led to a crucial six points.

“To be honest, we’re not surprised he was around the ball,” coach Joe Judge said. “We see that every day in practice. Practice execution becomes game reality. He showed up for us today.”

The Giants signed Lalos, 23, as an undrafted rookie in April and re-signed him to the practice squad after he missed the final cut in September. He wasn’t a starter until his junior year at Dartmouth and wasn’t First-Team All-Ivy until his senior year.

The upward climb has continued with the Giants.

“From the beginning, he’s just shown constant improvement every day,” Judge said. “We talk to our guys all the time about how it doesn’t matter where you are or what you are doing. He’s taken a lot of reps for us on the practice squad and worked hard on special teams. When we talked this week about who we liked in certain roles, his name came up. The coaches felt confident.”