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Big Green alumnus Lalos makes big debut in NFL with interception in first game

  • New York Giants defensive end Niko Lalos (57) celebrates an interception with teammates during the second half of an NFL football game against the Cincinnati Bengals, Sunday, Nov. 29, 2020, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Bryan Woolston)

  • This is a 2020 photo of Niko Lalos of the New York Giants NFL football team. This image reflects the New York Giants active roster as of Monday, July 27, 2020 when this image was taken. (AP Photo)

  • Dartmouth College's Niko Lalos stands in disbelief on Nov. 2, 2019, in Harvard Stadium after his team used a last-second touchdown pass to beat the Crimson. Lalos is one of the Big Green's standouts as it tries to complete an undefeated season. (Tris Wykes - Valley News) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 12/4/2020 9:07:07 PM
Modified: 12/4/2020 9:06:54 PM

Not many people can say they played in a regular-season NFL game. Even fewer have grabbed an interception in one. And how many have been given some love by NBA superstar LeBron James on Twitter after the fact?

Former Dartmouth defensive end Niko Lalos checked off all three on Sunday, making his debut for the New York Giants less than 24 hours after being activated for the 53-man roster against the Cincinnati Bengals.

“Definitely is a day I’ll never forget,” the undrafted rookie said on a conference call on Wednesday. “Going into it, obviously, was hoping to make the most of my opportunity and take what was given.

“I didn’t really know LeBron had shouted me out until after the game; that was really cool to see. All around, great experience. Just tried to soak it all up.”

Cincinnati quarterback Brandon Allen’s pass was broken up by the Giants’ Darnay Holmes in the last minute of the third quarter of Sunday’s contest and batted back toward the line of scrimmage. Lalos lunged for the deflected ball and caught it for the pick.

His interception resulted in a field goal for the Giants, who went on to squeak out a 19-17 victory. They now hold a share of first place in the NFC East entering Sunday’s visit to Seattle.

Lalos found out last Thursday there would be a chance for activation to get some snaps on special teams against Cincy, but as the week progressed the defensive staff let him know about some packages he might be thrown in on.

He got the official news on Saturday, and during Sunday’s game, some defensive injuries gave him the opportunity to make his mark.

“He’s definitely been a guy, from the beginning, he’s a guy that just shows constant improvement every day,” Giants coach Joe Judge said in his postgame news conference. “So we talked this week about who we liked in certain roles, and his name came up. Obviously, he was a guy that coaches felt confident in, so we put him up for the game. He was able to go in and compete for us and make some plays.

“To be honest with you, we were not surprised he was around the ball. We see that every day in practice.”

The connection with James comes from Lalos’ high school days; the two share the same alma mater, St. Vincent-St. Mary in Akron, Ohio.

Sunday’s game was played in Cincinnati, making it the first time Lalos had played a game in his home state in nearly five years.

Coming out of high school as wide receiver and tight end on offense and a linebacker on defense, Lalos had interest from Ohio State and Notre Dame as a potential walk-on but ultimately decided on Dartmouth for the academics.

His time in Hanover was capped off by a dazzling senior year. Lalos was a All-Ivy League first-team member as he recorded 35 tackles — including 10 for a loss — and 5.5 sacks. The highlight of the season was a pick-six at Yankee Stadium when the Big Green knocked off Princeton, 27-10.

Lalos solidified his place on draft boards after his performance in the Hula Bowl earned him MVP honors. He had six tackles, three for a loss, with two sacks and a forced fumble in the game.

“I remember coming out of high school and having multiple non-Ivy League D-I offers; I kind of felt like it was all the same,” he said about the chance Dartmouth gave him at making the NFL. “If you’re good enough, they’ll find you.

“My mom was really big into education, and she was always thinking what if I got hurt, what would I do after football. She was the one who kind of pushed me in that direction to go to Dartmouth, and from then on I did what I had to do to find my way to where I am today. It’s definitely the road less traveled, but I’m happy where I ended up at.”

Despite not being picked in April’s draft, Lalos inked a deal with the Giants within hours of the draft’s conclusion. He was released as part New York’s final cuts in September, but the next day was signed to the practice squad, where he’s been ever since.

Just playing in the game for the Giants was a big moment for the Dartmouth football program. The last Big Green alum on an NFL roster during the regular season was 2004 grad Casey Cramer, who saw some time with the Tennessee Titans in 2008.

Zack Walz, a 1998 grad, was the last former Dartmouth player to make an interception in an NFL game. That came on Nov. 5, 2000, when he picked off Washington’s Jeff George in a 16-15 win for the Arizona Cardinals.

After Sunday’s performance, Lalos was moved back to the practice squad this week. But being elevated again this season is a possibility, especially after making a good first impression.

“I’m just happy to be around,” Lalos said. “I’ll play wherever they need me to be. I know there’s a lot going on right now, whatever’s the best option for the team I will do.”

Pete Nakos can be reached at pnakos@vnews.com.




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