If Kayvon Thibodeaux wants to be the next Michael Strahan he knows that first he has to become … the next Michael Strahan.
Or at least he needs to be a reasonable facsimile of the Hall-of-Fame player Strahan was before he somehow morphed into America’s sweetheart and the most omnipresent TV personality of this generation.
All of which was undoubtedly going through his 21-year-old mind as his flight landed at Newark Airport on Saturday morning and he was able to look out the window surveying the New York City skyline and all it will mean to begin his career with the Giants. He’d been to the area many times in the last few months taking care of various business, some having to do with football including a pre-draft visit with the Giants just a few weeks ago, and some not. But Saturday was the first time he was able to swoop into the region and see it as his new home.
“Touching down,” he said of nearing the runway Saturday, “I was like: ‘It’s meant to be.’ ”
The Giants selected him with the fifth overall pick in the NFL Draft on Thursday because he can help them boost their pass rush production and ideally help improve the uninspiring results that have befallen the franchise these last few years. Thibodeaux hopes he can do that. But he is savvy enough, ambitious enough, outgoing enough, and smart enough to recognize that New York can help him, too, in ways that playing in Nashville or Houston or Detroit simply cannot.
He was already one of the top players in this draft class and being so touted is nothing new for someone who has been in the eyes of scouts since high school as he has been, one of the highest rated recruits in the nation when he went to Oregon to play in college.
He’s come to New York to become something more.
He’s here to be a star.
The Giants seem to be embracing that part of the package. It’s why general manager Joe Schoen called in a favor when Thibodeaux came for his pre-draft visit last month and asked Strahan himself to be on hand for the meetings. NFL teams don’t have to woo players they are drafting the way they might free agents or the way colleges dangle their intangibles in front of potential commits, but Schoen must have known that trotting out ol’ 92 would be the best recruiting tool he could ever employ with Thibodeaux.
“He literally is one of my mentors and he's been talking to me throughout this process,” said Thibodeaux, who was first introduced to Strahan via video conference last fall as his off-field aspirations began to come into focus. “Seeing him out there that was really dope because he's given me wisdom and he even was able to speak on my behalf because we have built a relationship over the year.”
More than how to smile for the cameras or cash in on endorsements, though, Strahan had practical advice that Thibodeaux has seemingly taken to heart: No one wants to see a failed player after his career has not lived up to the hype.
You want the money sacks after football? Rack up the quarterback sacks in football.
“Just to keep the main thing the main thing,” Thibodeaux said. “Football is going to be that avenue. Football is going to be that terminal for everything you want to do after … He shared with me that it took him being great to really cultivate everything he did off the field. It kind of just fell into place.”
Thibodeaux certainly seems to have the chops to become a popular beyond-sports personality. He was charming and gregarious at his first in-person interactions with the media during a tour of the facility on Saturday, talking easily about his belief in himself, his journey to this point, and even honestly declaring himself “ignorant” regarding football history and Giants pass rush history in particular (Strahan being the exception, another testament to the persona he has become). He also joked about his desire to wear the No. 5 jersey with the Giants and his dismay over how much it may cost to pry that number from kicker Graham Gano who currently has it.
“When you tell somebody 250, I don't know what 250 means,” he said. “You forget all the zeros behind it. Things are a lot different now.”
His one misstep in the entire interaction was being hoarse upon his arrival. Spokesmen who can’t speak are no good to anyone.
“The music has just been hitting differently (since he was drafted) so that's why my voice is gone,” he said in the rasp he’s been left with for the time being. “I've been singing along and singing my heart out, just enjoying it.”
Eventually, though, it will be time to go to work. Giants work.
Asked about his long-term goals and the potential to become a “brand,” Thibodeaux said his primary concern at this point is getting ready for his rookie season.
“When they handed me the playbook … it was like the brand went out the window, right?” he said. “The only thing I can think of now is the playbook and really get into it and dive into it and make sure that I know everything that I can going into training camp.”
If he can master that and stick to it, he may be able to mimic Strahan’s career. Careers, actually.
“They are both ridiculous,” Thibodeaux said of Strahan’s on- and off-field achievements and which he’d rather have, “but for me I feel like I kind of want to pave my own way. You know, he's done the great things he's done because of the work he's put in. So I’ve got to go put the work in myself and build that legacy for myself.”
He certainly has the role model for both.