Bobby Okereke's Perseverant Mentality

December 12, 2023

Athlete Studio

Following a recent practice session, a video began circulating on social media capturing the atmosphere in the Giants' locker room. While the majority of the team engaged in laughter and lighthearted moments, a keen observer would notice Bobby Okereke. Positioned on a chair in front of his locker, Okereke was focused, holding a tablet, and diligently scrutinizing footage from the practice session.

"For me, I guess it’s just peace of mind," Okereke told this past week. "Coming off the practice field, watching the film and seeing corrections for the day, what we did good, what we did bad, individually and collectively. I just try to be a student of the game and keep learning. So that when I’m playing on Sunday, I’m not thinking, I’m just reacting."

Okereke has been the best free agent signing for the New York Giants in more than a decade.

His presence can't be overstated, redefining the middle of a defense that for years has swung and missed in the quest to fill that void.

His leadership continues to emerge in what has been a challenging second season as head coach for Brian Daboll, filled with growing pains for a team that was in the playoffs last year. And Okereke's role in the development of those around him, second-year pro Micah McFadden in particular, has been significant.

Okereke is undoubtedly a centerpiece of the present, and given that he is only 27 years old and in the first year of a four-year contract worth $40 million, it’s fair to wonder where he will rank in franchise history in terms of production and overall play if this is just the beginning.

As improbable as it may seem right now, the Giants (4-8) could play their way back into the playoff picture over the final five weeks by, well, just winning games, and that starts Monday night against the Green Bay Packers (6-6), who currently own the seventh and final wild card spot in the NFC.

Okereke has the opportunity to be a driving force on the defensive side of the ball. He's the glue at the second level that weaves dominance from Lawrence and Thibodeaux's breakout with Xavier McKinney's recent outstanding play at safety on the back end.

“I’ve probably made some more highlight-worthy, splash plays in my career, but I just think, collectively, from a season campaign standpoint, this is the most impact I’ve had,” Okereke said. “What do I have? Nine TFLs (tackles for loss), 8 PBUs (pass breakups), 4 forced fumbles, 2 interceptions, 113 tackles – this is by far the best I’ve played up until this point.”

Okereke tries to breathe life into the family mantra his parents instilled in their four children (Bobby and his three sisters): "Preparation, perseverance, persistence."

Dad Kingsley and Mom Sandra came to the United States from Nigeria, where they grew up in humble beginnings before immigrating to California "in search of the American dream," Bobby said.

Before football, Okereke developed a love for soccer and ultimately became an Eagle Scout through years of service and dedication. A connection with music was born when the Okerekes dropped off his two older sisters at choir practice, and the director wanted to know if Bobby could sing.

He could, and that quickly became another childhood passion, including a class trip to Carnegie Hall that helped foster lessons that laid the foundation for football success in high school and on the road to Stanford and eventually with the Indianapolis Colts as a 2019 third-round draft pick.

"With choir, you learn your single voice is not more important than anybody else’s," Okereke said. "It’s integral to the whole group."

Okereke has endured varying injuries to stay on the field this season, and not only that − he's played every snap, fighting through pain and discomfort, the latest coming when he cracked a pair of ribs in Washington and did not come off the field.

"At the end of the day as football players, we all can respect somebody playing at a high level, you know, and something in our business that’s coveted is elite players," teammate Darius Slayton said. "I think once you recognize somebody, especially a teammate, somebody like Bobby, that's new to our team as an elite player, his influence grows, his leadership grows."

Solving Packers quarterback Jordan Love is the next challenge, and Okereke is ready for the challenge.

"Being a leader on this team, with such a young team, just trying to keep my focus forward and keep it narrow, keep a narrow focus," Okereke said. "I’m just focused on these last five games, we have this opportunity ahead of us."

Okereke has already earned the right to command respect from his teammates, one play at a time.

“He’s Batman for sure,” McFadden told with a laugh. “It’s just a mindset he brings, and I think our defense is playing to his level right now. He’s a cerebral player and it shows itself all the time. There are points in the game where we’re having a conversation on the field about what’s coming next. I’ve heard him call out plays, multiple times, and he’s spot on. He understands the game and his play speaks to that. It's easy to follow his lead.”

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