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Central grad Massaquoi gets his chance in Falcons win

Atlanta Falcons' Jonathan Massaquoi, a Central Gwinnett grad, defends Reggie Walker on a Cardinals punt during a game this season at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.

Atlanta Falcons' Jonathan Massaquoi, a Central Gwinnett grad, defends Reggie Walker on a Cardinals punt during a game this season at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.

ATLANTA — Jonathan Massaquoi was inactive for his first eight NFL games, forced to watch from the Atlanta Falcons sideline in his sweats.

“No one wants to be put on the bench,” the Central Gwinnett graduate said. “But I tried to take it as a learning experience instead of being frustrated. You have to continue to get better at your craft.”

Lessons learned.

Massaquoi impressed the Falcons coaches in practice and now the 265-pound defensive end is starting to be rewarded with some playing time.

With the release of veteran Ray Edwards, the fifth-round draft choice from Troy moved up the depth chart and more opportunities loom as the Falcons move toward the playoffs.

“You’re always one play away,” Massaquoi said. “You have to be ready when your number is called and rise up to the occasion.”

Massaquoi got in for about a half dozen snaps at defense end in Sunday’s 23-19 victory over Arizona and played on special teams for the second straight week.

“I got in my first taste of blood,” the 24-year-old said. “Hopefully, they’ll continue to feed me.”

Massaquoi’s first action came in New Orleans as the Falcons lost for the first time a week ago. The victory over Arizona, although not pretty, was much more enjoyable and it came before family and friends at the Georgia Dome.

“It was very exciting,” Massaquoi said. “I prepared good this week and got into the playbook a little more. I worked hard and got out there and performed. Hopefully I’ll get some positive feedback from my coaches.”

Massaquoi played on the kickoff coverage and punt return teams against Arizona, but it was the chance to get action for the first time at defensive end that really got his motor running.

“I was in for both packages. That was good,” said Massaquoi, who played on the right and left sides. “We got a three-and-out and shortly after on the next series John Abraham got a sack, so I kind of feel like I set that up.”

Fortunately, the Falcons’ top pass rusher, who ended up with two sacks, wasn’t nearby in the locker room to hear that bit of humor.

Massaquoi didn’t get in on a tackle himself against Arizona, but there is no question he has intrigued the Falcons with his potential.

“Jonathan is a very athletic defensive end,” coach Mike Smith said during the week. “He’s an explosive player. He’s a strong guy.”

Massaquoi had 20 sacks as a freshman at Barton Community College in Kansas, then 19 ½ more in two seasons at Troy, twice being named to the Sun Belt Conference first team.

Having already graduated, Massaquoi passed up his last year of eligibility and some thought he might go as high as the second or third round in the draft. Troy, after all, is the same school that produced elite pass rushers DeMarcus Ware of the Cowboys and Osi Umenyiora of the Giants.

“Massaquoi is a guy that’s got a lot of physical ability, a lot of good football instincts,” Falcons defensive line coach Ray Hamilton said. “He’s just a raw kid right now.”

Raw yes, but Massaquoi is someone willing to do what it takes to be NFL ready as soon as possible.

“It was a great experience to be out there with those veteran guys,” he said. “I feel I’m getter better every day. I just have to continue working hard and it will pay off.”