Willie Ponder wasn't the only former Southeast Missouri State University All-American to enjoy a big weekend in the National Football League.
Eugene Amano, a rookie center for the Tennessee Titans, made his first professional start Sunday during a 40-35 road loss to the Oakland Raiders.
"It was a thrill to get my first start," said Amano during a telephone conversation Monday afternoon. "It was definitely pretty cool."
Amano, a seventh-round selection in the 2004 NFL draft, had primarily been playing on special teams and in a reserve line role for the Titans this season.
But with several Tennessee offensive linemen out with injuries, Amano received the starting assignment Sunday -- although he didn't know for sure until pre-game warmups.
"Basically, I practiced with the first team all week, so I was prepared all week, and I figured I would play a lot either way, depending on whether our starting center could go," Amano said. "But it was basically a game-time decision, and after warmups I found out I was going to start."
The previous game, Amano had seen his most extensive action of the season at center, playing most of the second half. So it wasn't as if he was thrown into Sunday's fire cold turkey -- and he felt like he handled the situation well.
"It was a good experience and I thought I held my own pretty good. I didn't make too many mistakes," Amano said.
Although Tennessee's offense has been putting up big numbers, the perennial playoff team has overall been riddled with injuries and, at 4-10, won't be in the postseason this year.
But that hasn't prevented the 6-foot-3, 315-pound Amano from enjoying his first NFL season.
"It's been great so far and I've learned a lot," said Amano, who could start the Titans' final two games depending on the injury situation. "It's been a really good experience."
And Amano got a kick out of seeing his former teammate Ponder score his first NFL touchdown Saturday, on a 91-yard kickoff return for the New York Giants against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
"We were in meetings during the game, but I saw it on the highlights later," he said. "That was awesome."