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Uani' Unga keeps NFL dream alive for a little longer

Uani' Unga has to survive just one more roster cutdown to realize his dream of playing in the NFL. Andrew Weber/USA TODAY Sports

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. –- Uani' Unga made it through a stressful Tuesday afternoon when the New York Giants made their first team cuts at 4 p.m. ET.

Now comes the hard part –- making an impactful final impression during Thursday's preseason finale at New England and surviving final cuts on Saturday.

The Giants' middle linebacker knows the odds are likely stacked against him. Starter Jon Beason could be nearing a return as he appears to be feeling better as he was seen doing some conditioning on the field on Tuesday. And with veteran Jameel McClain handling middle linebacker duties until Beason returns, Unga knows he will have to not only impress on defense but also on special teams in order to have a shot.

"Since I was a little kid, it's always been a long shot," Unga said of his football career. "And when I finally got my foot in the door [here with the Giants], it still felt like a long shot."

The 6-foot-1, 233-pound linebacker has spent his career trying to overcome the odds. Following a two-year Mormon mission to Guatemala, Unga was at Oregon State for two seasons before transferring to BYU. He played two seasons there, racking up 142 tackles during his senior season in 2013 before tearing his ACL in the final game of the season.

At 26, Unga had to recover from a knee injury and try to keep his dream of playing in the NFL alive without being drafted. The Giants signed Unga to their practice squad last December.

Now 27, Unga knows the clock is ticking. And his dream isn't just to fulfill some childhood fantasy. Unga has a family that includes three children to support. His parents and in-laws have helped to let the linebacker chase his NFL goal.

"Really I've kind of put my family in a rough spot," said Unga. "I have three kids and I haven't had a job for who knows how long. Just going through the struggle … we have had family help from my wife's family and my own and that is how we have gotten through this.

"I just hope this all works out. I told my wife since I got hurt that we are just going to be in this no matter how long this takes. I am trying to get my shot and finally got it and I hope it works out for the best."

Unga comes from a football family. Two of his brothers played in college at Oregon State and Arizona State. His cousin Harvey Unga was BYU's all-time leading rusher and was a supplemental pick by the Bears in 2010. And his uncle, Tim Manoa, played in the NFL.

Unga has made some plays in practices and shown some ability to play in coverage. He has 13 tackles and has batted down two passes in three preseason games.

For a middle linebacker who has to bark out instructions and often has to set the defense, Unga is quite soft-spoken and humble. He says his wife, Lachelle, has often pleaded with Unga to be more confident.

"I'm always cautious of the worst and my wife tries to get me out of that mentality and be more confident," Unga said. "She believes in me, more than I do myself. That helps me. I am never going to settle and always going to keep trying to get better."

"I don't give myself enough credit," Unga later added when asked how far he has come in camp. "So coming into the NFL, I have always felt like I am going to have a hard time. [But] it has actually been a little easier than I thought before."

That's about the closest thing to confident that you will be able to squeeze out of the polite Unga. His hope is that his game will make plenty of noise on Thursday night, loud enough to keep his dream of making an NFL roster alive this Saturday.

"I am going to keep going until it is just completely out of range," Unga said of his NFL dream. "I am going to keep fighting. Years, I have no idea. But just when I have an idea that it is completely out of range, that will probably be the time [to consider something else]."