Last Sunday couldn't have been much more memorable for rookie defensive end D.J. Wonnum.
He experienced his first NFL winning locker room and recorded his first career sack.
And the fourth-rounder out of South Carolina took down a former Clemson rival.
"Definitely special, being able to sack Deshaun Watson for my first sack," Wonnum said. "Coach called the play, and that's when it presented itself. I went and got it and didn't think twice. It was a great feeling for my first one."
The Vikings brought a blitz, and Wonnum capitalized on being unblocked. The rookie, however, stayed under control in his approach to the mobile quarterback.
It was a rush that gave the Texans too many Vikings players to block.
The play involved a Mike Zimmer special, the double-A-gap look before the snap with linebackers Eric Kendricks and Eric Wilson crowding the line of scrimmage and mugging Texans center Nick Martin.
Kendricks and Wilson lined up between Ifeadi Odenigbo and Jalyn Holmes at the defensive tackle spots, and Wonnum was on the right (outside) of Odenigbo. Yannick Ngakoue was at left defensive end, and the Vikings also brought Harrison Smith up to the line of scrimmage outside of Ngakoue.
Kendricks blitzed up the middle, and Smith came from the edge, leaving nowhere for Watson to escape. Wonnum soon met Watson on the symphonic sack.
This week, the Vikings face a bigger challenge in Russell Wilson, whose mobility ranges from pesky "almost had him" to game-changing "Houdini acts." His play through four games (16 passing touchdowns and 136.7 passer rating) has placed him in the early MVP conversations.
Wonnum is embracing the next challenge and excited that family and friends in the Atlanta area — as well as his brother Dylan, a tackle at South Carolina — will have the opportunity to see him play because of the national broadcast by NBC's Sunday Night Football.
"A night game, everybody from back home is going to be tuned in, so I'm excited and ready to go," Wonnum said.
Wonnum ranks ninth in Gamecocks history with 29.5 tackles for loss and appeared in 43 games (30 starts) while at South Carolina. He was picked by teammates as a permanent team captain as a sophomore in 2017 and again in 2019 after bouncing back from an injury-limited 2018.
Although he only played five games as a junior, the Wonnums became the first brothers to win SEC Player of the Week honors from the same game (D.J. was Defensive Lineman of the Week, and Dylan was Freshman of the Week for their play against Tennessee).
We caught up with D.J. this week for a Water Break, presented by Crown Royal.
Q: How closely are you following your brother at South Carolina?
A: "Every time I get the opportunity, I'm on ESPN watching him live. Things are going to get better. I've got a lot of faith in Coach [Will] Muschamp and the guys."
Q: Did you and your brother always play contrasting positions and go against each other, even around the house?
A: "Yeah, growing up, he was always on the offensive line and I was always on the defensive line. It's crazy by us playing together in high school and being able to go against each other at that level, and actually going to the SEC for college ball and being able to get each other better on that level was just amazing. It's a blessing, because a lot of people don't have that opportunity to play with their sibling on the same college level. Having that in my life, I took it as a blessing and an opportunity for us to get better and keep going."
Q: What do you think enabled you to earn the honor of being a permanent captain in just your sophomore year at South Carolina?
A: "Definitely my approach with how I come into the building. Strictly business, ready to get after it, as well as my production matching up to it early as a sophomore. I feel like that's something that got me over the edge, and my teammates voted me as a captain. By [having that responsibility] at a young age, I had to step up early, so by having those guys believe in me, it just took my game to the next level."
Q: You helped South Carolina upset No. 3 Georgia by blocking a field goal in a 20-17 win. What do you remember from that play?
A: "I just felt right before the play, Coach called a timeout to ice the kicker. I'm like, 'I've got to go get this one,' and I went and got it. It was a great feeling."
Q: What's the art of blocking a field goal? Timing, length, explosive leaping ability, long arms? All of it?
A: "Yeah, basically, creating that second line of scrimmage and being able to get your hands in the flight lane of where the ball is taking off."
Q: How did that postgame atmosphere compare to the atmosphere this past weekend?
A: "It was kind of the same, honestly, first NFL win. That was a big thing, and also having a sack in that game. It was a great feeling, and I'm looking forward to it keep coming and getting better each week."
Q: How long were you able to celebrate your first NFL win?
A: "We celebrated it [Sunday], but now it's strictly business. We've got another game coming up against an undefeated team with a great quarterback, so going into this week, we're going to lock-in and get ready to go for Sunday."
Q: What's been your biggest adjustment to playing at this level?
A: "Getting adjusted to the speed of the game. It's a little bit faster than college, so getting adjusted to that and being able to work quicker moves and do different things, as far as my approach to coming off the edge."
Q: Describe your progression under Co-Defensive Coordinator/Defensive Line Coach Andre Patterson.
A: "Coming in, I learned a lot, as far as my technique and how to really play defensive end, so being under Coach Dre and having guys like [Ngakoue, Odenigbo and Danielle Hunter], being able to learn from those guys, I've learned a lot from day one. I feel like the sky is the limit, and I'm going to continue to get better and produce for the team."
Q: What's it like to get the rush plan for different quarterbacks each week, especially when preparing for Russell Wilson? Was preparing for Deshaun Watson helpful for this week?
A: "We just watch the film and look at his tendencies, the different things he likes to do and different things he's good at, which he's pretty much good at a lot of things. We're just going to go after it. Coach Dre puts a great plan together every week, and defensively upfront, we're going to go out and do our thing."