Nikita Whitlock is a Giant. But he almost wasn't even a Nikita.
His name was originally supposed to be Sergio Nehemiah Whitlock, he told Newsday on Monday, but in the delivery room at his birth his grandmother was dissatisfied with that name. She liked Nehemiah, but Sergio, she insisted, had to go.
His father was working for the Yellow Pages at the time, so that's where he turned for inspiration.
"He said 'We got one name from the Good Book, the Bible, let's get his first name from the book that pays us," Whitlock said.
He picked up the phone book, opened it to a random page, stuck his finger down, and it landed on Nikita.
"He said it jokingly, but my grandmother loved it so it stuck," Whitlock said. "A wild story. I like it. It's of European origin and I draw on it a lot because it actually means 'unconquerable.' "
That's pretty appropriate, given Whitlock's trail to the NFL. He was an All-ACC defensive lineman at Wake Forest but at 5-10 was too small to play the position in the pros. So he changed to fullback. He spent last season on practice squads, but this year he made the Giants' 53-man roster. He supplanted Henry Hynoski and will be the starter.
Whitlock learned he made the team through another series of fortuitous events. He lost his cellphone over the weekend -- something bubble players need to have handy for when a team calls to tell you you are being cut -- and was searching frantically in the team's facility for it. That's when he ran into "The Reaper," the guy who contacts the players to bring them to the roster guillotine.
"I was like, 'Dang, here it is,' " Whitlock said of that encounter. "But he said, 'No, you're not on the list today.' "
Whitlock is still learning the nuances of a relatively new position. He said he grasps most concepts, but basically just tries to "crush everybody I can." He figures in four to five weeks he'll have it down pretty well.
Why not? Nikita means unconquerable. Whitlock said he doesn't know what Sergio means.
Perhaps it translates to: Practice squad.