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New York Giants top draft pick Kayvon Thibodeaux says he’s focused on football, ready to ‘grind’

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Kayvon Thibodeaux seems to understand the pre-draft process is over. One of the newest New York Giants’ concentration is no longer about where he will be drafted or building his brand. It’s about playing football.

The fifth overall pick in this year’s draft talked at his introductory press conference about needing to “grind” and make learning the playbook his priority.

That is what is on the agenda for the much-talked-about Oregon product.

“Everything is about what you do,” Thibodeaux said. “I feel like, one thing with me, I can’t be a guy who blows smoke. I can’t be a guy with nothing to show for it. I can’t be a guy who people look at and don’t believe in. So for me, no matter what I say, I know I have to go put in the work.”

It’s especially relevant for a player who seems to have big aspirations beyond football. Thibodeaux dealt with public criticism throughout the draft process that questioned his work ethic and desire to be great, some even suggesting he was too worried about his brand.

It’s something that Thibodeaux’s mentor, Giants legend Michael Strahan, brought up during one of their conversations. He stressed that Thibideaux had to take care of the football-side first before worrying about what might come next.

“Just to keep the main thing the main thing and that’s kind of been the focus of all that,” Thibodeaux said of the advice Strahan provided. “Football is going to be that avenue. Football is going to be that terminal for everything you want to do after, so long as you keep the main thing the main thing.

“He also shed light into the idea that people thought the same thing about him. Like, man, you must have had this planned out. But for him, 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.”

Strahan had 141.5 sacks in 15 seasons with the Giants. He made seven Pro Bowls and was a four-time first-team All Pro. Thibodeaux, 21, still hasn’t played in an NFL game. Getting ready is his primary focus.

“It’s so crazy. When they handed me the playbook, it was in iPad form. To me, I learn best writing, so for me the brand went out the window,” Thibodeaux said. “The only thing I can think of now is the playbook. I’m going to dive into it and know everything that I can going into training camp.”

There is a good chance when he gets there he’ll be matched opposite fellow first-round pick Evan Neal. The No. 7 overall pick out of Alabama is expected to start at right tackle for the Giants.

That matchup will be familiar. Thibodeaux and Neal said they were seemingly always put against each other during football camps throughout high school.

Now, they’re in New York area together.

“I believe it’s going to push us tremendously,” Neal said. “I believe in iron sharpens iron, so what better place to get better than the New York Giants. So I’m just excited to go out there and just compete, compete my hardest, man, and hopefully we make each other better.”

It just may look different, aside from them now wearing Giants jerseys. Thibodeaux may not be wearing his customary No. 5. That currently belongs to veteran Giants kicker Graham Gano. As former New York safety Jabrill Peppers learned last year, the No. 5 might not come cheap.

“This is real now. We’re talking real numbers,” said Thibodeaux, who expressed a desire to wear No. 5 and said it has special meaning to him. “When you tell some 250, I don’t know what 250 means. You forget all the zeros behind it. It’s a lot different now. He’s a great guy. We’re obviously going to build a relationship and we’re going to talk about it. “

Maybe 55 instead?

“It’s doesn’t sound as good as five but … the number don’t make the player,” Thibodeaux said, “the player makes the number.”

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