“Evan Neal talks swag, confronting bullies, everything Giants”
Giants first-round draft pick Evan Neal, an offensive tackle out of Alabama, blocks out some time for a Q&A session with Post columnist Steve Serby.
Q: What do you like better: pancakes or pancake blocks?
A: Pancake blocks of course, come on now (laugh).
Q: But you like pancakes too, don’t you?
A: Oh, everybody likes pancakes, man. Who doesn’t like a good old stack of flapjacks now? Come on.
Q: What is so great about a pancake block?
A: Whenever you take a grown man, and you move him back and push him back against his will, to the point to where you implant him into the ground, there’s no better feeling than that.
Q: Someone who knows you well describes you as a fighter for the underdog. Did you ever intercede on behalf of an underdog against bullies?
A: Yeah. No one wants to see someone get bullied. So if there was a time where I had to step in, I’ll step in. Growing up, nobody really wanted to fight me, so I definitely kind of used to that my advantage taking up for guys, for people, that really couldn’t take up for themself.
Q: Can you give me an example?
A: I really don’t want to get too specific into details or anything like that, man, but I was in high school, and I walked into a room where two guys were beating up on this other guy for no reason. But I just stepped in, man. I said, “Well, you want to fight somebody, you guys fight me.” And just broke the thing up, man. I don’t like that.
Q: Tell me about the time you were a safety patrol in fourth grade and you pulled your cousin Braeli’s colors.
A: Yeah. She thought because I was her cousin that she didn’t have to respect authority. I think she got out of line, she wasn’t walking in her line or something like that. I said, “Hey Braeli, everybody’s walking in line, you should get in line.” I think she told me to shut up or don’t talk to het or something. I’m like, ‘“Rules are rules. You gotta follow them.”
Q: So you took that safety patrol seriously?
A: Yeah, ’cause the thing is, whenever you were a safety patrol officer, like three times out of the year, you got a pizza party. So I always wanted to make sure I stayed on safety patrol.
Q: Is it true that when you were 3 or 4, you could eat an entire watermelon?
A: Oh yeah, my grandad [Jimmy], rest his soul, he used to get a real kick out of me being a 3-year-old kid eat a whole watermelon by himself, and laugh while I was doing it, and that really sparked my love for watermelon.
Q: How does your swag differ from fellow Giants first-rounder Kayvon Thibodeaux’s?
A: I just got my own swag, man. My mom and my sister describe me as debonair. I’m just myself. Kayvon’s himself. That’s the beauty about people, everybody’s different, man, so that’s the special thing about it.
Q: Are they accurate with debonair?
A: I like to think they’re accurate ’cause that’s what I want to come off as — handsome, articulate, classy, humble. So that’s definitely what I try to portray.
Q: What adjectives you would use to describe Evan Neal on the field?
A: Mean … tough … durable … relentless … strong-willed … just a competitor.
Q: What do you pride yourself most on?
A: Keep my quarterback clean and opening up holes for the running back. As an offensive lineman, it’s a thankless position. It’s all guts and no glory, and that’s what I like about it. People don’t come to the games to watch us, so it’s kind of like another game within itself. For people that really, really understand football, they understand what I’m talking about, like offensive line play, it doesn’t even have a ball involved. It’s a game within the game, and that’s definitely what I enjoy about it.
Q: How will you deal with the pressure of being a first-round pick?
A: Coming in and working extremely hard as I can, just getting better every day. Pressure comes along with this business. I felt pressure coming in and starting as a true freshman at Alabama.
Q: Describe some teammates: Andrew Thomas?
A: He hasn’t been around in the building yet, but I’m definitely looking forward to learning from him once I get around him and be able to establish a relationship with him.
Q: Daniel Jones?
A: He seemed like a pretty cool guy, man, from first impressions.
Q: Brian Daboll?
A: Coach Daboll’s a cool guy, man. He expects the most out of you, like any good coach would for sure. He’s real personable with the players, and definitely wants to just build relationships with the players.
Q: Did you play against 2021 Giants second-rounder Azeez Ojulari in college?
A: My sophomore year, we played Georgia, but he was mainly lined up on the left side versus [Alex] Leatherwood. I think it was only one rep where he was lined up on my side, but he wasn’t my blocking assignment. So I never actually got a chance to actually block him. I went against his brother [B.J.], and his brother beat me the one time whenever I played LSU. There’s no coincidence there.
Q: You allowed one sack in college. Who beat you?
A: Actually, I gave up two. In the national championship on the last play, I gave up that one against Nolan Smith, but the other one it was a guy from Auburn, I forget his name.
Q: What do you feel when you allow a sack?
A: No one wants to give up a sack, but what else can you do other than just play the next play, so I don’t really try to harp on it and dwell on it.
Q: Is there an offensive lineman who reminds you of yourself?
A: Sure there’s guys that I try to model my game after, but I’m just me.
Q: Describe your on-field mentality.
A: I’m gonna go out there and get the job done, man. Football’s not a gentleman’s sport, it’s a rough man’s sport.
Q: Do you ever get angry on the field?
A: Well of course, it’s controlled anger. You don’t want your anger to spiral out of control because you have to tide control, so you have to bottle that up, harness it and play with a controlled anger.
Q: What gets your controlled anger going?
A: Just me playing football. As soon as I step on the field, that’s what I do.
Q: What drives you?
A: Just to be the best version of myself. I really want to see how good I can become as a football player. And also my parents, how hard they worked their entire life, just me being able to give back to them, definitely drives you.
Q: If you could pick the brain of any tackle in NFL history, who would it be?
A: Either Larry Allen or Orlando Pace.
Q: What would you ask them?
A: Orlando Pace just being such a bigger guy, like how he got his body in a good position to win blocks and being so big and so long. And I’d ask Larry Allen how did he sustain such a career of pure dominance, like what did it take for him to keep in such a good shape for him to be so dominant on the field?
Q: If you could go one-on-one against any pass rusher in NFL history, who would it be?
A: I feel like it’d be exciting to go against a guy like Reggie White. Just hearing my dad grow up talking about him and just watching some of his highlights, he was just a dominant force coming off the edge for sure.
Q: Is there a criticism that bothered you the most or you felt was unfair?
A: I really don’t think about that, man, because the end of the day, everybody’s gonna be a critic. It’s easier to be a critic than to do what we do on the field. So everybody’s gonna have an opinion. I try to only listen to the opinions of the people that matter to me. I really try to tune out all the noise.
Q: Is it true you hated offensive line as a kid?
A: I wouldn’t say hated it, but I wanted to tackle people. I wanted to play on the defensive line. I feel like offensive line, it was kind of just boring to me as a kid. I wanted to tackle guys, I wanted to sack the quarterback. So my coach wouldn’t let me play defensive line until I got an X amount of number of pancakes, then he’ll let me go in and play defensive line.
Q: What is the biggest adversity or obstacle you had to overcome?
A: Thankfully, I hadn’t had like a serious injury or anything like that, so probably just going to Alabama, just being young, just being thrust into a starting role and having to learn on the fly.
Q: Describe Alabama QB Bryce Young.
A: He’s laid-back, cool under pressure. I never really saw a moment where I’ve ever seen him rattled. He’s been that way ever since I’ve known him, just a poised guy.
Q: How high is up for him as an NFL quarterback?
A: I feel like Bryce has the capability and potential to make his ceiling as he wants to make it. So long as he puts the work in like I know he will, there’s no telling.
Q: What was your favorite Alabama moment?
A: I would say winning the  national championship, that was pretty cool. But this year I definitely can say the  Auburn game, having to fight back and fight back to [tie] that game on the last drive [of an eventual 24-22, four-overtime victory], if we woulda lost that game all our playoff intentions would have been down the drain.
Q: What’s one Nick Saban anecdote?
A: Coach Saban’s the same guy every day. He’s not gonna change. He’s gonna come in, and expect you to work just as hard as he does, and I feel like that’s why he’s able to make guys so successful.
Q: What was it like getting the key to the city from Okeechobee, Fla.?
A: That was special. I’m not gonna lie, that’s definitely one of the highest honors that I’ve gotten. They don’t really give out many keys to the city, and for me to be the first African-American male that has gotten the key to the city is really special. I love my hometown, it means so much to me. It always has been and it always will, and that’s something I’ll cherish for the rest of my life.
Q: Have you ever had speckled perch?
A: I’m allergic to seafood so I haven’t, but I know about the Speckled Perch Festival and stuff like that.
Q: You’re a country boy from the speckled perch capital of the world, and now you’re in New York. How’s that going to work out?
A: It’s gonna work out good, man, it’s gonna work out awesome. It’s gonna be a new experience for me. New experiences are always good for sure.
Q: Have you been to New York City?
A: I haven’t, but I flew into LaGuardia Airport and we drove through to get to New Jersey. But I haven’t actually like been in the city.
Q: Did you ever watch clips of your father, Eddie, play linebacker at Tulane?
A: They didn’t really have many. I scoured the internet, I found a game. I definitely feel I coulda took him for sure. Tulane would probably have to reach back deep into the archives to find that.
Q: What did you mean?
A: I definitely coulda blocked him. Me and him go back and forth about this all the time. So it’s just funny, ’cause he was an outside linebacker, I’m an offensive tackle, so we definitely get to chirping at each other. It’s just all in good fun.
Q: Did you guys do pass rush drills?
A: Naw, I wouldn’t hurt my dad, man.
Q: What is the biggest thing you learned at IMG Academy?
A: Me coming from a small school in Okeechobie, Florida, me being the biggest fish in a small pond, not really getting talent in practice like that where you have the No. 1 defensive end on one side, the No. 2 defensive end in the nation on the other side, the No. 1 inside defensive tackle, I’m like, “Man, damn, I gotta get better.” It really kind of just opened up my eyes and really showed me how much more work I had to put in.
Q: Who are athletes in other sports you admire?
A: Michael Jordan, for sure … Kobe Bryant. I respect greatness, man. So anybody that has achieved at a high level of greatness in whatever sport, definitely kudos to them, man, I definitely respect them for sure. To be great at such a high level of a spurt it definitely takes sacrifice and a whole lot of discipline for sure.
Q: How good of a basketball player were you?
A: I was really good at basketball. I ain’t gonna lie, honestly basketball was my first love growing up. Whether guys admit it or not, everybody had dreams going to the NBA, but your sport chooses you, you don’t choose your sport. So football definitely chose me.
A: I don’t like to split poles too much, but I’m not too superstitious of a guy other than I don’t like to split poles, I think that’s just the country boy in me.
Q: Three dinner guests?
A: Muhammad Ali; my grandfather, I didn’t really get the time to get to know him ’cause he passed away when I was so young; Kobe Bryant.
Q: Favorite movie?
A: Growing up it was “Transformers.”
Q: Favorite actor?
A: Samuel L. Jackson.
Q: Favorite meal?
A: Pretty much anything my mom cooks, man. My favorite dish that she makes is her macaroni and cheese, she makes the best macaroni and cheese on this earth.
Q: Favorite book?
A: “As a Man Thinketh” [by James Allen].
Q: What would you want your legacy to be one day?
A: I want to be able to look myself in the mirror and say I left everything that I have out on the field. I sacrificed everything I had, I put everything into it, so that way whenever I do hang my cleats up, I have no regrets. … I’ll have peace of mind knowing that I gave it my absolute all.
Q: What do you know about the New York Giants’ tradition?
A: They have a great football tradition, a great football history. And the people in New York definitely love their football team. I’ve heard some people describe ’em as Alabama fans times 10.
Q: What is your message to New York Giants fans about Evan Neal?
A: I’m just gonna go out there and just leave it all on the field, and do everything I can to help the team win, help the organization. … I’m gonna do my best. So what more can you ask for?
Q: For the past 4-5 years or even longer, the offensive line has been this team’s Achilles’ heel. What would you say to that?
A: Well, I can’t speak for the last 4-5 years. But I know I’m here now. I’m gonna do everything in my power to help change that.
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