One of the first things rookie defensive end Jonathan Massaquoi did when he started his NFL career was lose some weight. The Falcons, who drafted him in the fifth round this past NFL Draft, felt Massaquoi was better suited to play at 260 pounds instead of the 275 pounds he played at during his senior season at Troy.
It wasn't an unfamiliar size for Massaquoi. At 260 pounds as a junior he was one of the better pass-rushing prospects in the nation, ending the season with 13.5 sacks. Falcons head coach Mike Smith said during May's rookie minicamp that the Falcons felt Massaquoi's production as a junior was linked to his weight, hence the request to drop a few pounds.
The slimmed-down Massaquoi demonstrated tremendous speed during June's full-team minicamp. While his reps were limited at practices behind the likes of Vic Beasley Jr., Ray Edwards and company, his burst was evident while practicing on special teams. The 24-year old said during minicamp that he's approaching being a paid professional player exactly as he should: acknowledging that it's a real job.
"It's definitely a full-time job," he said. "I'm just happy they signed me, I'm happy I'm in this position. I'm blessed to be here. All I can is bring everything I've learned over my years in college and bring it to the table. Now I've got to allow my position coach and defensive coordinator to reanalyze that and put me in the right position to make plays."
Massaquoi's got NFL experience in his blood. His cousins, Visanthe Shiancoe and Mohamed Massaquoi, both have solid NFL service time. The young Massaquoi has leaned on his older cousins and their advice as be begins his own NFL career. Specifically Shiancoe, who is currently a free agent after an eight-year career with the Giants and the Vikings, has given Massaquoi some advice on what to expect during the recent OTAs and in training camp in July.
"He told me 'You're a rookie, they're going to ride you,'" Massaquoi said of his cousin's advice. "'It's a mental game at first. They break you down mentally and then build you back up physically and mentally.' That's what they've been doing. I'm meeting that challenge every day, taking good coaching and being observant of everything around me like the veterans and watching everybody in front of me so when I get out there, I'm not a bust."
Massaquoi's trajectory to the NFL took some unusual routes, including a stop at a community college in Kansas for two seasons. He didn't begin playing football at Lawrenceville, Ga.'s Central Gwinnett High School until his junior year. While he hasn't exactly arrived on the NFL scene, he's worked his way into an opportunity to continue what has been a relatively short football career thus far.
He hopes all the kids in his hometown just down the road from where the Falcons practice in Flowery Branch, Ga. will see his path and be inspired to believe they can accomplish the same thing.
"I just want to show other kids in schools in Gwinnett County, that if a local can do it, you can do it as well," he said. "That's the kind of message I'm trying to promote right now."