The New York Giants made a splash in free agency this offseason, signing linebacker Bobby Okereke to a four-year, $40 million contract to fill a huge need on their defense. Okereke recently sat down with Alex Wilson and Anthony Rivardo, the hosts of Fireside Giants, to share some insight with Giants fans on his life, the impact that his Nigerian background had on him, and what he is bringing to the Big Apple.
Exclusive Interview with Giants LB Bobby Okereke:
Alex: We’re really excited to get to know you, Bobby. Obviously, you have a lot of talent and a great upbringing, a lot of really great culture and you’re definitely a great fit for us. So we’re really excited to add you to this room, add you to this locker room. And I definitely want to give you a chance to kind of introduce yourself. I know you have a really awesome side hustle you’re working on, premium travel services. I’d love to hear more about that.
Bobby: Yeah. So yeah, for people who don’t know me, I’m Bobby Okereke. I got drafted in 2019 out of Stanford. I started with Indianapolis Colts for the past four years. And now I’m here with the New York Giants. I’m loving it.
My business venture that you alluded to, I got a black car chauffeur service company out in Miami, Florida, Fort Lauderdale, that whole like Miami Dade County area. But yeah, that’s a new business. Started that about three months ago. It’s doing well. We got two Escalades. We got one with a nice tan interior, one with stars on the roof. So if anybody’s in Miami needs a ride, feel free to hit me up.
Alex: That’s awesome, man. I don’t know much about the travel industry. Is it armed and has legitimate security with it? Is it just high-end?
Bobby: I mean, you can, like we have, we have the availability for all those options. But it’s really chauffeur service. I know being here in Jersey, like anytime I go to the city, I mean, I either Ubering or I have a black car service. I’m probably not driving. So anybody who just wants that chauffeur service, it’s a nice amenity.
Alex: I’m definitely excited to talk to you about kind of your upbringing, how you grew up, the culture that’s infused into your character, and the mentors in your life; the people that have helped you become who you are today. Everyone that’s coming into this Giants team right now, this locker room is of high character. That’s definitely really exciting for us. But tell me about your childhood, where you grew up, how you grew up, the cultures that kind of influenced you and kind of helped you become the person and man you are today for this Giants football team.
Bobby: Yeah, so I’m a first-generation Nigerian-American. My parents were born in Nigeria, immigrated here to the United States to make a better life. And they’ve done that for me and my three sisters. I’m the third oldest. I have two older sisters, one younger sister. I was born in the Bay Area in San Mateo and then in third grade moved down to Orange County, California. I spent most of my childhood growing up there. Went to Arroyo Hughes, Foothill High School. And then from there went to Stanford.
I think just that Nigerian heritage and culture growing up really just grounded me. My parents, we talked about the three P’s, literally since the day I was born: preparation, perseverance, and persistence. And for them, it was really just, the daunting task of coming here to the United States trying to make a life for themselves, trying to make a great career. Really just understanding that you’re gonna face adversity along any endeavor you’re trying to go through. So if you prepare as hard as you can and then you decide to persevere and persist through any obstacle, that’s really just a recipe for success. So I try to keep that near and dear to me and my heart. And yeah, it’s carried me well so far.
Anthony: Building off of the impact that your life has had outside of football, I read an article this morning that described you as a trailblazer for women’s sports and discussed the impact that you’ve had on young girls playing flag football. So I’m interested to know where you get that passion from and what kind of impact you’ve been able to have on some of these young women that you help develop in sports.
Bobby: Yeah, I think flag football is a great sport for young kids, especially to get exposure to football without pads, without having to start contact too early before their bodies are mature enough for it. But I think it was just a really amazing opportunity for those girls in New Jersey trying to be trailblazers. And I think this is the first county-wide camp that we’ve done to this to this extent. So I’m excited just to be someone that they can lean on and someone who can help promote. that cause because it’s a real good cause.
Alex: I love the fact that you’re getting so involved in the New York kind of market already and helping do all these awesome things. So kudos to you for that. I have a cultural question about your you know, Nigerian background. Any great foods that you love from the culture and things that you grew up eating that which is like that’s that hits the spot?
Bobby: Yeah, I mean, jollof rice and goat meat anytime I can get some of that, pristine. But my favorite soup is probably okra soup. Okra soup with any beef or stockfish. Great, great food. There’s honestly probably some nice Nigerian foods out here in the city. So I’m gonna have to do my exploring.
Anthony: I’ll kind of pivot into a more football-based question here. A lot of Giants fans might not be super familiar with your playing style and the game that you bring to the team coming over from Indianapolis. But what can you share with the fans who might be listening? What is your playing style and what exactly are you bringing to this team?
Bobby: Yeah, I’m a fast, physical, sidelined, sidelined linebacker. I’m great in man coverage. I’m great in zone coverage. And I really excel at stopping the run. I’m disciplined. I’m smart. I’m a team player. And I’m really just an athlete out there, trying to work together with my teammates, but someone who really just has a big drive to win.
Anthony: Building on the athleticism that you bring, Wink Martindale, your new defensive coordinator, he is blitz-heavy, aggressive, loves to get after the quarterback. Where do you see your role in that equation? Are you excited to start blitzing a little bit more? Have you talked to Wink Martindale, what he envisions for your role in that aspect of the defense?
Bobby: Yeah. I think it’s a process that’s grown and grown throughout this OTA period through training camp, just figuring out what plays best for our team and how we can complement each other. But he knows my skillset. You know, I’m athletic, I can blitz well, I can cover well. So really just a guy who can complement my teammates.
Alex: In Indianapolis, they didn’t utilize you that often as a pass rusher. Do you envision that’s gonna be a little bit more of a part of your game with the Giants? I know Wink Martindale loves to have those athletic linebackers. You fit the mold perfectly. Are you expecting to be a little bit more involved in that way?
Bobby: For sure. We have the mentality pressure breaks pipes. And you wanna have as much as you can have an attacking-style defense, the better. You wanna play aggressively. You wanna put the pressure on offenses and make them make quick decisions. So that’ll definitely be an added part of my game, but zone coverage and man coverage is a great part of my game too. So if guys are blitzing and I’m in coverage or if I’m blitzing and guys are in coverage it’s gonna work well.
Alex: I’ll ask you something a little bit more about your culture, what we talked about before. Anyone that really stood out to you as a mentor growing up? Any player any personal, kind of catalyst in your life that helps you refine the man you are today and also as a player?
Bobby: As a football player, not really. You’d hear about Nigerian guys who paved the way, Christian Okoye, Prince Amukamara, just Nigerian guys who played well and had a lot of pride, a lot of Nigerian pride. But personally, for me, my dad was always a great role model. My cousin, Amobia Kugo, I think he played maybe 10 or so years in the MLS. So he was kind of a trailblazer for me and my family, just someone we know playing professional sports, doing it the right way.
He started this company, A Frugal Athlete, and really just talks about financial literacy for athletes and being smart with your money and thinking long term. And a big role model for me in my whole life has been Myron Rolle. I’d say part of the reason I went to Stanford, hearing about him going to Florida State and getting a Rolle’s Scholar and going to Cambridge and doing that whole thing, I was like, dang, I want to be that prestigious athlete that’s also excelling academically. Those are a couple of my role models that definitely helped pave the way for me.
Anthony: Do you watch any European soccer at all?
Bobby: Not really.
Anthony: Oh, there’s a, I’m a fan of this team, Napoli, that just won the Italian league. They have a Nigerian striker named Victor Osimhen. I was wondering if you’ve heard of him or watched him play at all.
Bobby: Oh, wow, I should probably look him up.
Alex: During this free agency period while you were trying to figure out “where am I going to go?” “Where am I going to sign?” What led you to the Giants? What led you to this team? Obviously, Brian Daboll, and Joe Schoen, are tremendous guys and have done a lot to change the culture here and make it a team that people want to go to. So when you’re looking at this team during the offseason, what makes you think “the Giants are a place like I gotta go, this is where I can maximize my skill set maybe one a championship here?”
Bobby: I think, like you said, stars kind of aligned for me, especially playing the Giants in Week 17. And them beating us, seeing them go on to have a playoff win, playing well. Just seeing what the state of the franchise is. Obviously, everybody’s telling me Dabes [head coach Brian Daboll] is an amazing coach. My buddies who played in Buffalo, throughout the league, everybody’s like, “you’re gonna love Dabes.”
And Wink, he’s one of the best defensive coordinators in the NFL. So knowing that I got a great front office, great coaching staff, great teammates, I can have a lot of success. Obviously, the defensive line I’m gonna be playing in front of is stellar. Yeah, things just, it was kind of a perfect storm. They gave me a great offer and being here in New York City, it was just beautiful, beautiful situation.
And you’re not the only former Indianapolis Colt that signed with the Giants this off-season. The team also signed Parris Campbell, a wide receiver who used to play for the Colts, and we’re really excited about him, and the speed that he brings to the game. But what can you share with Giants fans about him? You guys played on two different sides of the ball, but I’m sure you got to know him over your past few years there. So what can you tell Giants fans about what Parris Campbell is gonna bring to the offense?
Bobby: Yeah, he’s extremely fast. I mean, 4.3 is an understatement. He’s fast, he’s fast as heck. But he’s a leader. He’s a leader, he’s a guy who does stuff right. He’s a guy who brings young guys along. And he’s just a competitor. He’s ultra-competitive. Whether you’re shooting hoops, outside of football, you’re playing corner of the locker room or you’re on the field, he’s one of the most competitive guys. And I mean, that’s what you need to win.
Anthony: I’ve heard a lot of stories about the Giants playing ping pong in the locker room. How are your ping pong skills? Are you prepared to win some tournaments?
Bobby: My ping pong skills are all right. I haven’t touched the ping pong table yet, but I’m brushing up on my skills for sure.
Anthony: Yeah, better get prepared. I’ve heard there’s some good players in the locker room. But you talked about your mentors throughout life, leading up to your career in the NFL. But talking more about football, who were some of the players that you kind of watched and studied to model your game after?
Bobby: I think coming into the league, Telvin Smith in Jacksonville, Deion Jones in Atlanta. Really just those linebackers that were like sideline-to-sideline linebackers who covered well, really just flying all over the field.
And then as a rookie coming in I was very fortunate to have great older leadership in front of me. Anthony Walker, now he’s with the Cleveland Browns. He’s, I mean, people say the constant pro, but it’s truly him. The way he prepares, the way he approaches every day. And then Shaquille Leonard, it’s the way he practices and the intensity that he practices and plays with and prepares with. It’s second to none. So I’ve been blessed with great leadership and great influences.
Alex: So I’ll ask you this: it’s game day, what’s your routine for game day? Anything that you do specifically?
Bobby: I’m probably waking up and I’m taking a cold shower. And I might like oscillate in between cold and hot, but I need that cold shower to wake me up. I’ll probably throw on a little meditation. For me, when I play well, I’m in the ultimate zen mode. So whatever I can do, if I’m pretty organized, if I can organize myself, organize my locker, just keep everything in place. That way that I can have that inner peace. So on game day, I can just go let it loose and play. That’s probably what I do.
Anthony: We talked a little bit earlier about the defense that you’re going to be playing in with Wink Martindale, but we didn’t really talk about the defensive line. And the Giants have a pretty good defensive line in front of them with Leonard Williams, Dexter Lawrence, some real big guys up front. How do you benefit from playing with some great talent in front of you on the defensive line? And how does that open things up for you defensively?
Bobby: Big time. Their ability to create vertical seams and penetrate, that’s going to stop an offense right there. Those guys can passrush great. And then from a run standpoint, they’re eating up blockers or eating up pullers, really allowing me to fly sideline to sideline. So if they don’t make the tackle, which they probably will, I’ll come to clean it up. So I’m just excited to get to know my teammates better and play with them.
Alex: So you’re looking at the defensive line, Dexter Lawrence, Leonard Williams, those big guys. Wink Martindale said last year, the best way to stop an offense is to make them one dimensional, and stopping the run that makes that really important, right? How do you kind of react to that? What are your thoughts about that?
Bobby: It’s huge. I mean, like you said, if you can make teams one-dimensional, you know how they’re going to attack you. You can really gear up for it and that’s how you make plays. That’s how you get PBUs, that’s how you get interceptions. But football is as much of a psychological warfare game than anything. So if a team’s able to run the ball on you, it’s really just demoralizing. And they’re getting first down after first down, they’re eating clock, they’re physically wearing on you. So as soon as you can nip that in the bud, the better for you and the better for your offense. It’s momentum, it’s a game of momentum. So yeah, it’s big time.
Anthony: Yeah, and you mentioned pass breakups and getting involved in coverage. And that’s one thing that Giants fans are really excited about, the skillset that you’re providing to the team and the ability to get involved in coverage. And I know that during your time in Indianapolis, you had a couple of really impressive interceptions, pick sixes. Do any of those plays stand out to you? Afavorite play that you’ve had, the most exciting moment in your career so far?
Bobby: Yeah, definitely that interception I had versus the Patriots. That was pretty stellar. I mean, I laid out like, that might’ve been the best player in my football career. But in my rookie year, I had a pick-two, which is crazy. It doesn’t count in the stats as an interception, which is nuts. We gotta fight that rule. But yeah, I had a pick-two for 99 yards. I ran it back. I think I hit 21.3 miles per hour. But yeah, I’ve had some great interceptions and I’m excited to bring that here to New York.
Alex: The coverage part of your game, how important is that to you? Kind of rounding out that question, if you had to point to your strengths, what would you say your strengths are? And if there’s anything that you’re like, “I want to get better at this,” is there anything that you’re pinpointing in your game?
Bobby: Yeah, I would say both. I would say run game and coverage is the strength of mine. But there’s also areas I can improve. I think run games, discipline and physicality. That’s a plus of mine. And then in the pass game, man coverage, understanding concepts.
But yeah, areas to improve in coverage… Just kind of getting in passing lanes. As quarterbacks are going from their first read to second read to third read, just keep my feet hot, stay in my shuffle so that I can affect throws even when he gets to his third read. And then in the run game, just being more style with my hands, when you’re facing those 300, 330-pound linemen, being able to shock and shed and get off and make a tackle. That’d be a great improvement for me.
Anthony: We talked earlier about Dexter Lawrence, Leonard Williams, some of those specific names up front on the defensive line. Is there anyone else that stands out on the defense that you’re just really excited to start playing alongside?
Bobby: Yeah, Kayvon Thibodeaux and Azeez Ojulari. That’s another Nigerian name. It’s hard for me to pronounce, too. But both those guys are studs physical freaks, physical phenoms, and just high-motor players I’m excited to play with.
Alex: So this is my last question for you and then we’ll let you go. You mentioned before that you like to meditate before games. Right before a game you’re about to go out, any music specifically you’re listening to? Are you listening to more low-key vibes, like meditation type of things, just kind of focusing in?
Bobby: Oh no. I mean, I’m playing hardcore rap, NLE Choppa, MoneyyBag Yo, NBA Youngboy. Meditation is like morning time, waking up, getting myself serene. But once I’m in the locker room, I got my pre-workout I got my music headphones in, like I’m amped up. So like a nice little bounce.
Alex: That’s awesome. And well, we appreciate your time Bobby. It was an absolute pleasure. Anything else you want to say to anybody and to all the Giants fans who are obviously very excited to see you play this upcoming season?
Bobby: Yeah, I’m excited to be part of the family. Excited to be here. I love New York. Love New Jersey. Just got to make some plays. Let’s go get it.
Alex: Absolutely. Appreciate you very much. We’ll catch you later, my man.
Bobby: Thank you. Appreciate y’all.