Ponder, Amano survive final round of cuts

Tuesday, September 7, 2004

There were cuts, cuts and more cuts over the holiday weekend as National Football League teams got down to the 53-man roster limit for the regular season.

But a pair of Southeast Missouri State University products were not among the casualties, meaning the Indians will have two NFL players when the season opens this week.

Wide receiver/kick returner Willie Ponder, a sixth-round draft choice in 2003, will be in his second year with the New York Giants.

Center Eugene Amano, a seventh-round draft choice this year, will be a rookie with the Tennessee Titans.

"It's just great for our program and also great for Willie and Eugene," Southeast coach Tim Billings said.

Ponder more comfortable

Ponder, an All-American at Southeast in 2002, was considered a solid bet all along to make the Giants' roster for the second straight season. While he said he took nothing for granted, he acknowledged that he was much more comfortable this time around.

"The situation was pretty much the same. I had to make the team again," he said. "But I felt more comfortable. It was a little easier for me to understand everything that was going on."

The 6-foot, 205-pound Ponder was hampered by injuries much of his rookie season last year, appearing in just four games and catching seven passes for 35 yards.

Ponder hopes to contribute more this year -- he had eight receptions for 69 yards in four preseason games -- and is also listed as the Giants' No. 1 kickoff returner. He averaged 22.4 yards on 12 returns in the preseason.

"It looks like I'll be returning kicks, and hopefully I'll also get some action at wide receiver," he said. "Last year was a good learning experience, and I hope to contribute more this year."

Regardless, Ponder is simply pleased to continue his NFL career.

"It's great being in the NFL," he said. "I'm excited, ready to go."

Amano's dream came true

As a seventh-round draft choice, Amano was considered something of long shot to make the Titans. But now he's about to begin an NFL career.

"It's a dream come true," Amano said. "It's hard to imagine, to officially be on the active 53-man roster. It's a great feeling."

Amano, a 6-3, 315-pounder who was an All-American for the Indians in 2003 and earned the Rimington Award as the nation's top Division I-AA center, is listed as the Titans' No. 2 center. He's also slated to see action as a "wedge-buster" on kickoff returns.

"Hopefully I'll get some playing time," he said.

Amano opened plenty of eyes throughout training camp, and he played at least half of most of the Titans' preseason games. After an initial adjustment period, he said he quickly settled down.

"I was real nervous at first. I didn't know where I stood, especially physically, but after the first day, I knew that I could hang," he said.

Added Amano, whose brother Fred is a sophomore defensive lineman at Southeast, "Going from SEMO to the NFL, it's pretty amazing. And to have two SEMO guys in the NFL, that's really cool."

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