ALAMEDA, Calif. -- The first sign?
"I could tell by his approach he wasn't trying to kick the ball," said Oakland Raiders rookie Shalom Luani as he recalled Tennessee Titans kicker Ryan Succop making his approach for the season-opening kickoff.
Sure enough, Succop took aim at Luani on the right side of the Raiders' front line on its kickoff team. Then came the onsides kick, bouncing end over end on the orders of Titans coach Mike Mularkey.
"I didn't expect it, to be honest," Luani said. "I was just reacting to the ball. Just see ball, get ball. Just be able to make the play, help out the team."
Luani's background as a soccer player -- he was on American Samoa's national team and scored twice for them in international competition in 2011 -- gave him the inkling that Succop's setup was, well, different.
With most of the Raiders turned their backs and ran for their blocking assignment, Luani stayed put, gathered the ball and took a blow from Tye Smith.
Holding on to the kick to set up the Raiders' high-powered offense at midfield was a different way for Luani to get his first regular-season NFL action.
It also set the tone for the team -- not just for the game ... but for the season.
"Yeah, the awareness, we wanted to make our players aware of those types of things," Raiders coach Jack Del Rio said. "Mike had a history of looking for those opportunities, so we were alert for that possibility going into it.
"I was impressed with [Luani's] poise. He was able to not have the moment be too big, sit there and make a heck of a play to get that ball recovered. Obviously, it set up a short field, and we go right down and score. I thought it was a big way to start."
Four plays after Luani's recovery, Amari Cooper barreled his way into the end zone on an 8-yard catch-and-run touchdown, setting the Raiders up for their eventual 26-16 victory.
"I just stayed there and watched him before he kicked," said Luani, whose 26 snaps Sunday all came on special teams.
"So I was just like, 'Stay there, be patient.' And I was right."