New York Giant speaks about his exponential growth to stardom and what keeps him up at night
Odell Beckham Jr. of the New York Giants visited London last week and alongside Brits Menelik Watson (Oakland Raiders) and Lawrence Okoye (San Francisco 49ers) – both returning home for an off-season holiday – he took part in a NFL UK Fan Forum presented by sportlobster at The Mermaid Conference Centre.
Hosted by Neil Reynolds from Sky Sports, the night saw 600 NFL fans inside the full-to-capacity venue, chosen from a draw of 6,000 with those lucky enough to be present given an opportunity to ask questions as well as learn about the technical aspects of the game and even compete to throw a ball to Odell himself to try a one-handed catch.
The fan nights for the NFL UK audience have been a hit ever since they started back in 2007 and the latest one saw fans, many of whom had travelled from across the UK – including some who had travelled more than six hours to get the venue – an opportunity to get close to the real superstars of Gridiron.
A Head For The Game was in attendance and heard from Odell about what keeps him up at night, his college career and, of course, ‘The Catch’.
“I am still the same person I was, it just so happens I’m playing NFL, but I’ve been playing football all my life,” explained Beckham Jr. who shot to fame after an impressive rookie season which saw him break franchise records one after the other including the first Giants wide receiver to make the Pro Bowl, the most receiving yards for a rookie (1,305) and most receptions (91).
OBJ, as he is known, is the player who made ‘The Catch’ – a touchdown-scoring one-handed catch against the Dallas Cowboys in November that quickly became a worldwide sensation, even resulting in the Pro Football Hall of Fame putting the shirt he was wearing to make that catch on display.
But whilst the player himself is proud of that, he has other things to worry about.
“Everybody sees ‘The Catch’,” he explained, “but what they don’t see is that there was a ball in that game that I felt I could’ve got to with my left hand or could have gone for and I’ll never get back.
“Those things keep me up at 2, 3 o’clock in the morning. I can’t take my mind off of them.”
This sheer-mindedness has made OBJ, who has just 12 NFL games to his name one of the NFL’s hottest properties already and it was evident at an early age.
“My Mum told me stories that when I was four years old I was running about outside, by myself, a little bit of snow on the ground and I was in shorts and socks,” he explains. “She had friends around and came out and asked me what I was doing. I told her ‘training for Sundays’ – she could see in my eyes I was serious and that’s what I wanted to do.
“I wanted to be the best, no matter what it was; basketball, baseball, soccer, football. I had no doubt in my mind I would be able to make it to where I am at.
“Now I am pushing deeper, and I am the only one that can change it. I am going to see how far it goes and do each and every thing to maximise the opportunities.
“It’s something that’s so inside me that I cannot stop thinking about, it’s always been a little different for what motivates me and what my desires are; it’s something I almost can’t explain, something in my head that keeps me up at night.”
Despite this quick shot to stardom OBJ insists that he has not changed as a person – just the environment around him.
“You have to realise you have more people watching you and kids looking up to you,” he said.
“You need to hold yourself accountable ‐ not changing yourself, just changing what’s around you and putting yourself in the best situation to not get yourself into trouble.
“Once you get put in the spotlight and everybody’s eyes are on you, it’s not that things change, it is just that things you were doing before no‐one was noticing, everybody is noticing now. They then formulate an opinion, whatever the case may be.
“Of course I was expecting to do big things but I wasn’t expecting things to change so fast – as far as the case of dealing with whatever comes around it is about keeping the right people around you – but I’m still learning, to be honest.”
This learning process is at an early stage for the native of Baton Rouge, Louisiana and both current players and greats of Gridiron prove ongoing inspiration for the 22-year-old.
“Out of the current players, the player who most inspires me is Antonio Brown,” said OBJ about the Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver. “His style of play; the way he moves and the way he has the ball in his hands.
“Marshawn Lynch too – they’re my two favourite guys at the moment but when I leave the game I want them to think of me as a Jerry Rice or be in the same conversation.
“The greats’ goals were not to just make money; they wanted to be the greatest ever – I think that is the goal for anybody who just wants to be the very best at what they do.”
Being the best is still some way off for the 22-year-old as last season the young player was fined $10,000 for his part in a sideline brawl with the Rams, $11,025 for removing his helmet on the field against the Eagles and other, smaller fines for small infractions – all deviating from his actual play.
“I got fined a lot for doing little things, small things,” he explained. “I got fined for not having enough white in my socks, for having blue cleats which they said were not team colours, for my undershirt hanging out.
“There are countless amounts of things you can get fined for. It seems like they [the NFL] boost you up and push you up, but underneath the table they come and get you for not having the right socks – they’re just trying to find ways of getting it (money) back from you – I lost quite a bit of money.”
The season past was clearly a success for the player but it got off to a slow start for the First Round 2014 NFL Draft pick who developed two separate hamstring injuries with the second one featuring two tears, resulting in him missing training camp, pre-season and the first four games of the season.
“I just decided that even though I wasn’t playing there was no point complaining and hurting,” explained the former Louisiana State University (LSU) player, “but I could take advantage of the time so when I came back out there I didn’t have to think twice about what I had to do and still just use my instincts.
“Even though throughout the season I didn’t feel 100% healthy, it was just that knowing and understanding of the playbook, and defenses and coverages which allowed me to put myself in those positions I found myself in.
“The biggest thing for me when I was drafted was settling; settling with the players; the guys. For me, I was hurt for a long time ‐ so being physically unable to compete you had to activate the mental side.”
Odell Beckham, OBJs father, was a running back at LSU himself from 1989-1992 and roomed with the legendary basketball player Shaquille O’Neal, who is OBJ’s Godfather. In London OBJ took the chance to reminisce about those college days.
“When you’re in college you’re with your teammates and you’re grinding to get to the next level,” he said. “On top of that you’re grinding, period. You’re out there working at six in the morning, you’re all tired, but you’re all out there for the same purpose, there’s no ulterior motive.
“There’s very few people in college that will have kids, family, a girl; but these are guys who you’re going to have memories with forever, you’ll only be in the league once but you’ll only be in college once.
“It’s all about the grind and what you did to get on the field with those guys. In college there’s so much more passion, there’s nothing behind it, it’s just pure love – the NFL is a lot different and it’s not just because it’s professional.”
With talk about when there will be a London NFL franchise rather than if, OBJ was asked what he thought about a London franchise and rookies like he was a year ago being drafted straight into Europe.
“I think it’s a great idea,” he said, “but I don’t know what it will be like for a player who has dreamt to play in the NFL his whole life, who grew up in America ‐ it’s America’s game ‐ but for him to then get drafted and told ‘OK you’re going to London’.
“I don’t know how some people would be able to accept that, but I would come over here and play though that’s for sure.”
Now OBJ has made his NFL bow and can soon be regarded as a veteran, how does he feel every time he crosses that white line?
“I think about what I am going to do today,” he explained. “For me it’s all about finding that zone. As soon as I arrive and get to my locker, I just sit there for five minutes looking at my jersey, at everything, really cherishing the moment; you never know when it can be your last game so I really look at it like that.
“I stand on the field and ask myself ‘how do you want to be remembered?’ – I was in a cab in New York a couple of days before the draft. We were driving, looking at how bad the traffic was and how bad people were driving and thinking ‘I don’t want to be part of this madness’. Looking back though, I wouldn’t change it for the world.”
And, finally, about ‘The Catch’?
“I knew when I went up and reached for it with one hand and had the opportunity to come down with it there was no need to put the second hand on that,” he said. “You just kind of feel it – it all comes down to those big plays and I noticed that towards the middle of the year; how close games could be and how they can change in a matter of minutes.
“It was a lot of fun, I have to say.”
Photos courtesy – NFL UK