Kenny vs. Cleveland

GERRY MODDEJONGE, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 2:04 PM ET

Kenny Onatolu has been here before.

And that's exactly what has helped him make it in the NFL as his Minnesota Vikings set to open their regular season against the Cleveland Browns today (11 a.m., FOX).

"I'm pumped up, excited," said the former Edmonton Eskimos linebacker, who made the Vikings' 53-man roster after starting all four preseason games on the special teams unit.

It's the same place he found himself when he began his professional career in Edmonton in 2007.

"Now in this league I'm an unknown name, no one knows who I am and I have to go out and prove I belong on the 53-man roster. They let a lot of good guys go and I have to be able to prove to everybody why they chose me," said Onatolu, who broke onto the Eskimos defence in a big way last year, recording 59 tackles, three sacks and two fumble recoveries.

But his time on special teams will go just as far as he kicks things off in the NFL.

"Being in Edmonton definitely helped me as far as knowing how to be a pro, how pros do things and just being in a camp," said Onatolu, who also had interest from the Miami Dolphins, New York Jets and Tampa Bay Buccaneers this year.

"Just seeing how everything works, the football side, the business side and being mentally prepared.

"Coming down to the NFL camp, I was ready. Nothing surprised me when guys were getting released on certain days and I'm like, 'Man, they haven't seen anything because in the CFL, guys come and go.

"I mean, they'd bring guys in every single day if they could, that's just how it is. All that, the CFL helped me mentally big time."

But it's not an experience that any of his teammates have shared, if they even know about the league to the north?

"The funny thing is, not at all," Onatolu said. "No one knows anything about it. They're always asking questions and I'm always telling them and they're always surprised. I figured a lot of guys would know about the CFL, some of the guys knew players in the CFL ... but they don't know much about the game or about what goes on."

Onatolu has a twin brother, Taiwo, who played college with him in Nebraska-Omaha.

"Throughout college, he was the one. He was the better player," said Onatolu. "Luck just kind of played into my hands."

Taiwo wasn't so lucky.

"He never got an opportunity. He went to a one-day camp (with the Calgary Stampeders) and that was it," Onatolu said. "Coach (Danny) Kepley saw my film and just loved me and I honestly think that was the reason why they kept me in '07. He believed in me and you kind of have to have that. There are so many good players but you have to have someone fighting for you otherwise you'll get overlooked kind of like my brother did because we came from a smaller school."

It also comes down to attitude.

"I just try to stay positive and stay strong," Onatolu said. "If I made it I was going to be very happy and if I didn't I knew I gave my best effort."

GERRY.MODDEJONGE@SUNMEDIA.CA


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