Why Kayvon Thibodeaux is Destined for Day-One Success in the NFL
After Kayvon Thibodeaux's first practice as a member of the New York Giants, he was asked the question, "can you lead as a rookie?" Thibodeaux responded that while he may not be the most vocal leader in his first year, he will lead by example and through his actions.
While some people may doubt him and his ability to lead, there are no doubts in my mind that Thibodeaux will come in from day one and take charge of this defense. It is not because I believe he has unreal potential (which I do believe), but it is because he has been showing me that he can lead for the past seven years.
When rookies have immediate success in the NFL, people tend to label them as "overnight successes" or when players strike gold off the field people like to call them "lucky". While I can not speak on other players' on-field triumphs or off-field ventures, I can tell you that the Giants' rookie defensive end, Kayvon Thibodeaux, was not some "overnight success" that got "lucky".
Most casual NFL fans are just starting to get familiar with Kayvon Thibodeaux, but I will tell you that the former Oregon pass rusher's notoriety has been a long time in the making. It is something that he has been manifesting for a while now, and I have had a chance to watch his journey since he was an eighth-grader at Palms Middle School in Los Angeles, California.
I am just two years younger than Thibodeaux, and when he was at Palms, I was at a neighboring middle school. Thibodeaux's name has been circulating throughout the Los Angeles community since he was young. I remember my friend who was a sixth-grader at Palms telling me about this athletic freak who was a few years older than us. That athletic freak was none other than Kayvon Thibodeaux.
As someone who has known that I have wanted to work in scouting since I was eight years old, I started paying attention to this athletic eighth-grader. I had a few friends who played AAU basketball against him, and the one thing they noticed about him other than his rare athleticism was that he had that "it factor". He was captivating to play against, and he was captivating to watch as a fan.
He then began captivating people outside of the Los Angeles community. As a freshman at Dorsey High School, he started to get the attention of bigger high schools and college scouts. After instant success at Dorsey, he transferred to Oaks Christian, a football powerhouse prep school in Southern California. His success continued gaining momentum until he was eventually named high school defensive player of the year as a senior by USA Today.
Thibodeaux had offers from every school in the country including Alabama, Florida, and Florida State; three schools that are known for producing NFL superstars. Instead, Thibodeaux went the untraditional route and chose the University of Oregon, a school in the PAC-12 that is known for producing skill position offensive speedsters.
Thibodeaux understood the weight that this decision had on college football, and began to manifest. He knew that at the University of Oregon, he would have the opportunity to trailblaze his own way as a pass rusher and prove that he isn't just a product of some SEC powerhouse. While this decision was before the legalization of name, image, and likeness (NIL) deals, Thibodeaux had the foresight to see that Oregon would best set him up for opportunities off of the field. Phil Knight, the founder, and CEO of Nike is an Oregon alum and has a reputation for making Oregon athletes sponsored Nike athletes.
Thibodeaux realized that Phil Knight has the potential to make him a global superstar whose brand will impact people outside of the United States. He understood that the stardom that schools like Alabama instantly provide, would come, as long he took care of what he did on the football field... and that is exactly what he did.
As a true freshman at Oregon, he had nine sacks and was named PAC-12 Defensive freshman of the year. The following season he was named first-team all-conference and won the MVP of the PAC-12 Championship game. In his third and final season at Oregon, Thibodeaux solidified himself as an inevitable top ten NFL draft pick and was unanimously named an All-American.
Just like Thibodeaux predicted: the Nike deal, money, and fame all came in due time, all he had to take care of was what he did on the football field. Fast forward to the pre-draft process, doubt started creeping in from the outside. People began to call Thibodeaux cocky and arrogant because he was openly willing to talk about his manifestations and success on the football field. It is the same reason people were calling Micah Parsons "immature" the year prior; they both have that "it factor". It is something that small-minded people can't quite grasp. Thibodeaux is a big dreamer that will work tirelessly until he gets what he has always dreamed about.
Prior to the draft, I loved Thibodeaux as a prospect; he was my number one graded player in the 2022 class. I thought he could win with his hands, with power, and especially with speed. He's a player that can bend and get low to the floor, but also bull-rush, use a double hand swipe, club-rip, and get to the quarterback in multiple ways. He is intentional with how he rushes the passer similar to how he is intentional with where he committed to college and how he approaches business. He is both a smart player and an intelligent human being who sees the game like it's chess. He has foresight off the field and on the field, "I have to use the first move to dictate my second move which will, in the end, get me to my third move which will hopefully be checkmate” says Thibodeaux.
As I prepared to work at the draft as a talent coordinator and NFL liaison for artist Rob Prior (who painted all of the first-round draft picks), there was no player I was more excited to meet than Thibodeaux because I was proud. When you are a fan of somebody, it means that their successes feel like your successes. As I mentioned earlier, I have been a fan of Thibodeaux since he was in eighth grade, so to see him thriving and succeeding made me feel like I was thriving and succeeding.
The day before the draft I got to meet Thibodeaux at an NFL Play-60 event where he was full of energy and you could tell he was loving the moment. His hard work was paying off and he was inspiring children just like he inspired me when I was a sixth-grader getting to watch him play for the first time.
At the event I got to tell Thibodeaux about my long-time fandom for him and that I was proud of him. He was outgoing, welcoming, and just a really cool dude. He took an interest in my life and let me tell him my story despite the biggest day of his life being less than 24 hours away. It was cool for me to see a guy whom I consider my "day one" call me his "day one" at the end of our conversation.
Zoom forward to right before the red carpet, I got to see Kayvon once again in his black ruby-encrusted draft day suit with his mom by his side. When I came up to him he told his mom, "this is my day one... since Palms middle school!" I really believe Kayvon is a genius, not just as a football player but in how he carries himself off the field. He is someone with incredible foresight and who understands the power of manifestation. I told him a quote by the writer F Scott Fitzgerald, "genius is the ability to put into effect what is on your mind". I then told him and his mom, "this is something that has been on your mind since day one... enjoy the moment I can't wait to see what is next for you". Afterwards, he gave me a hug, we took a picture, and strutted out onto the red carpet like the champion he is.
Just an hour later he was named the fifth pick of the 2022 NFL draft and the first pick of the new Giants general manager, Joe Schein's career. When he was walking onto the stage, I was behind the stage watching him walk onto the scene with the same excitement that he has been playing with since he was an eighth-grader at Palms Middle School. Afterward, I got to dap him up and watch him take in the moment that he has always dreamed of.
After he finished all of his interviews and media session, I saw him leaving. As he was entering the elevator to go to his car, he pointed at me and saluted... we made it.
Now, let's go back to where this article started... can Kayvon Thibodeaux lead as a rookie? The answer is yes, I know he can lead as a rookie. I know this because he has led me to be the best version of myself since I was in sixth grade without having ever met me. And just as he led me to be better, he will lead his teammates to be better; not just with his words, but through his actions.