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T.J. Brunson hopes to bring leadership, durability to Giants’ defensive unit

Brunson was one of four linebackers selected by the Giants in the 2020 NFL Draft

South Carolina v Georgia Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

T.J. Brunson may be a New York Giant but he doesn’t look the part just yet.

Due to social distancing guidelines during the coronavirus pandemic, Brunson cannot meet up with any of the Giants team or staff and he does not own any Giants gear. In fact, his whole family supports the Las Vegas Raiders. Suffice it to say that Giants’ blue is not a popular color in the Brunson household. Brunson imagines that will change soon. though.

“We’re going to deck the house out in some blue,” Brunson said.

Brunson was the eighth of the Giants’ 10 choices in the 2020 NFL Draft, taken in the seventh round with the 238th overall pick, who has been tasked with both celebrating and now preparing for the NFL virtually. He said that he thinks the current online format will make the return to the field that much more exciting.

“I think this will help us when we get there,” Brunson said. “If we don’t get there until August, we’re supposed to hit the ground and be able to pick up everything that’s going on. I think this gives us a chance to really understand the calls and the defense and get out there and play fast.

“Once I get a helmet on and get up there and start playing around, I think that’s when it will be real.”

Brunson was one of four linebackers selected overall by the Giants in the 2020 NFL Draft. He appeared in 49 games for the South Carolina Gamecocks, including starts in each of his last 38 contests. During his collegiate career, Brunson recorded 283 tackles (164 solo), including 21 tackles for loss and six sacks. He also picked up one interception, seven passes defended, one forced fumble and four fumble recoveries.

Yet it is Brunson’s leadership on and off the field that makes him stand out. As a sophomore, Brunson received the defense’s Tenacity and Strength & Conditioning awards. The following year, Brunson was named the Joe Morrison Most Valuable Player, but he also earned the Leadership, and Unselfish Teammate awards. He received the Leadership Award again as a senior.

To cap it off, Brunson was a two-time captain for the Gamecocks.

“Being a two-time captain is big just for the simple fact that I was voted on by my peers,” Brunson said. “It just made me feel as if I had a stronger role to play on the team. I was definitely a guy that had to come out every day and prove myself and prove why I had those titles.”

Brunson said that the tenacity he demonstrated in college was instilled in him from an early age. He grew up with two older brothers who pushed him to be more competitive. As a rookie, Brunson will not be an immediate leader for the Giants but he plans to conduct himself with the same humble, yet fierce attitude that he learned from his brothers.

“My only focus is getting in and doing what I’m supposed to do to help the team,” Brunson said. “I don’t have any predictions, or I don’t plan on going in there being that guy. I just want to go in there and do my job and do it to the best of my capabilities.”

This emphasis on working hard and proving oneself aligns with Joe Judge’s philosophy and culture. Brunson said the two have only interacted at the Senior Bowl and described him as a “laid back guy” who know’s what he is talking about.

Brunson is no stranger to being one of the first players that a new coach decides to bring to a team. When deciding where he would attend college, Brunson originally committed to Louisville but decided that “it didn’t feel like home.” He then committed to South Carolina to play for coach Bill Muschamp during his first year on the job. Brunson was the first recruit Muschamp visited after being hired.

“It was big to know that someone, especially a coach like that in the SEC, felt like I was important enough to go out and get to help start a team for his inaugural season,” Brunson said. “That’s going down in history, we’re his first class. It’s crazy looking back at it knowing all of our stories and how we got there and things like that.

“Everything he told me from day one has pretty much come to fruition. Those things were just you get in here, work hard, keep your head down and you’ll see what you’re working for. Over the years, our relationship grew and I kind of understood him and what he wants in the program.”

With Muschamp’s guidance, Brunson developed versatility as a player. He played MIKE, WILL, single-high safety and middle field safety. He also has experience on special teams because he started his career there.

“I was out on every type of drill that they had in practice,” Brunson said. “I was going out trying to get out there first. I know that’s kind of my role and how I make this team, how I can help out and make it better. Whatever they need me to do, I’m out there.”

And Brunson stayed out there. He played more than 2,500 snaps in college over a three-year career, showcasing his durability on way to becoming a constant on-field presence.

Guidance from former Gamecock players has helped prepare Brunson to play at the NFL level. Brunson said that he keeps in touch with Saints defensive tackle Taylor Stallworth and Panthers offensive tackle Dennis Daley.

“They really just kept me level to the process of training for the combine, pro day or whatever and getting ready for the draft and now we’re post-draft,” Brunson said. “It’s a little bit different this year than what they had to go through, but I think they’ve given me enough information and knowledge of what to expect that I’m pretty ... I’m ready for it.”