Tyke Tolbert was so excited to see the familiar face that he yelled “Odell!” and ran over to give him a hug.
No, he wasn’t overjoyed to have Odell Beckham Jr. on the field with the Giants in training camp this summer (although that certainly is a plus). Instead, the first-year wide receivers coach for the Giants was glad to be able to embrace Odell Beckham Sr., the father of the Giants’ superstar receiver, who was in the family section at practice last week watching the team go through one of its early workouts.
Tolbert and Beckham Sr. were teammates and fellow wide receivers at LSU in the 1990s, and he was at the school at the same time Beckham’s mother, Heather Van Norman, was there as a track star. He knew both of Beckham’s parents when Beckham was born in 1992.
“It makes me feel old, that’s what it makes me feel,” Tolbert said. “I mean, I held him as a baby outside the dorm, and now here he is, I’m coaching him and I’m like, wow. It makes you feel old.”
Besides that sensation, their shared history has allowed for the two of them to jump ahead in their new relationship as player-coach. The man who is in the ear of the Giants’ most mercurial talent has a very long history with him… even if Beckham was too young to remember most of it.
“When you get here you have an immediate connection,” Tolbert said. “That made the transition for me to come here and for him to come with me a little bit easier because I have that immediate connection.”
Tolbert did keep tabs on Beckham as he climbed through the various levels of football.
“I obviously watched him in college every week because of the alma mater,” he said, giving a quick “Geaux Tigers!” “Obviously I’m a fan of anyone who plays at LSU. He wore his dad’s number back then.”
Tolbert paused. “He was better than his dad, by the way.”
Still, there is plenty Tolbert is learning about Beckham Jr. now that they have this new dynamic. Like the fact that Beckham loves to not only play football but talk about it.
“Sometimes you think guys don’t like to talk ball when they are in there, but you see him going over stuff and talking ball with other guys,” Tolbert said. “Talking about different plays, talking about different techniques. ‘How can you do this better? How can you do that better?’ That’s what the great ones do. They sit back and not only do it on the field, but when they are off the field they are looking at somebody else and seeing how they can do this better or that better. He talks ball a lot when he is not in there.”
Tolbert said he can’t help but root for Beckham.
“I’m glad to see where he’s come from,” he said. “I know his parents really well like I told you, and for him to be able to have this success he’s had up to this point, and hopefully continue, I’m happy for him and his family.”
Of course, he’s Beckham’s coach, not his cheerleader. There are times he has to be stern with Beckham, even yell at him. Is it harder to do that with a player who he once cradled in his arms?
“No, it’s not,” Tolbert said. “It makes it easier, actually.”