Former prank target now a Giants star

When he enters the cold tub now at New York Giants headquarters, Prince Amukamara does so voluntarily.

Amukamara’s reputation took a bath this summer when a video of the second-year cornerback being roughly dumped in the icy water by Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul was posted by another teammate (punter Steve Weatherford) on the Internet.

As he was being carried toward the tub on Pierre-Paul’s shoulder, Amukamara did little to try and stop him. He also didn’t come back swinging at Pierre-Paul after being dunked like others in the same position would.

This raised questions about whether Amukamara was something that no NFL player ever wants to get described as — soft.

Whether what Pierre-Paul did was a prank or the bullying of a smaller teammate remains unclear, but this wasn’t an isolated incident. Amukamara has acknowledged he was tossed in the tub multiple times last season as a rookie. The Newark Star-Ledger reported that Giants teammates also took scissors to his shirt and tie before a road trip to San Francisco, forcing him to fly cross-country with his clothing in tatters.

Some of this abuse was believed to stem from Amukamara’s refusal to follow rookie traditions like taking orders from veterans and maintaining a low profile. There also was a sense that the affable Amukamara needed some toughening up to survive in the NFL, especially playing in a pressure-packed media market like New York.

After taking these hijinks in stride, Amukamara has fought back this season — not with his fists, but with his play.

Amukamara enters the FOX America’s Game of the Week between the Giants and visiting New Orleans (4:25 pm. ET Sunday) as New York’s most consistent cornerback, starting alongside veteran Corey Webster.

Forced to miss the first half of last season because of a fractured foot, Amukamara is becoming the type of defender the Giants had hoped when making him a 2011 first-round draft pick. He has 46 tackles, six passes defensed and one interception since entering the starting lineup in Week 4, after a preseason ankle injury.

“I’m getting a lot more comfortable,” Amukamara told after Wednesday’s practice. “The game is starting to slow down a bit, and I’m starting to pick up on routes. It’s a lot different than how the schemes were in college.”

So is life in the NFL. Amukamara said he wasn’t fully prepared on or off the field after the stardom he enjoyed at the University of Nebraska.

“You’re on your own. You don’t really know anybody,” said Amukamara, who was raised in Glendale, Ariz. “That transition wasn’t as easy as I thought.”

The first shock was how many people made financial requests after he signed a four-year, $8.2 million rookie contract.

“You’re an instant millionaire,” said Amukamara, 23. “I never thought that I would have to deal with the money and people asking me (for things). It is a reality. A lot of people on this team deal with it.

“I can see a lot of people just wanting to help. They feel obligated to the people who helped them (along the way), so they feel they need to pay them back. But you’re only making this type of money for a short amount of time. Anything can happen, and not a lot of people understand that.”

Amukamara said having a good financial adviser helped him learn how to handle those with their hands out.

“He’s definitely my ‘No’ guy,” Amukamara said. “Anyone who needs something or asks for something, I tell them, ‘I’m on a tight budget. You can talk to my guy.’ We have a plan of where we want to be.”

Another valuable lesson Amukamara learned was how football takes more commitment than practice and playing on game days. Amukamara said he has followed the post-workout routines of three veterans (center David Baas, right guard Chris Snee and defensive tackle Linval Joseph) when it comes to faster physical recovery.

And yes, that includes spending time in cold and hot tubs as well as stretching and sauna treatments.

“I never believed in the cold tub or ever had a sauna,” Amukamara said. “Just seeing them do it and how fresh and energized they look for practice, it makes me want to do the same thing.”

Injuries have hampered New York’s secondary throughout the regular season, which is one of the reasons the Giants enter the Saints game with a 7-5 record. New York faces another stern test Sunday in Saints quarterback Drew Brees and his crew of dangerous receiving threats.

“(Marques) Colston with his range, he’s Drew Brees’ go-to guy,” Amukamara said. “He has a big body. and they throw the go-ball with him a little bit. (Lance) Moore is more of a slot guy like our Victor Cruz. They move him around, and he’s a good playmaker. He’s another deep threat like Colston and Joe Morgan. They have a lot of versatility.”

Even with the chiding from his peers, Amukamara feels fortunate to play for the Giants. He also has something already that plenty of other NFL players will never earn — a Super Bowl ring.

“I dealt with a little adversity in the beginning when breaking my (foot), but I helped contribute to this team and making that run to the championship,” said Amukamara, who registered a tackle playing off the bench against New England in Super Bowl XLVI.

“It was a great feeling. I definitely don’t take that for granted. I hear about guys like (Atlanta Falcons tight end Tony) Gonzalez, who haven’t won a playoff game.

“I definitely feel spoiled now. That’s the only year I know. If this year is not the same, it won’t feel too good.”

Like an unwanted trip into some frigid water.