- The Saints’ electrifying rookie talks about the transition from Tennessee to New Orleans, what he’s learned from Drew Brees and Adrian Peterson, and why people are waving to him on the highway
Take a good look at Alvin Kamara, football fans, because he’s probably someone you’ll be seeing and hearing a lot from for years to come. He’s hard to miss, too. He’s the one with the gold teeth and the bullring nose piercing during the game, the one leaping over defenders and making electric runs.
The Saints picked Kamara, the University of Tennessee running back, in the third round, No. 67 overall in the draft last April. Now 12 games into his career, he’s compiled 606 rushing yards and 614 receiving yards and 11 total touchdowns, filling the role of Reggie Bush or Darren Sproles in the Saints offense. Except he might be better than those two. He’s already the favorite to be named the Offensive Rookie of the Year, and he figures to be a staple of the Saints’ attack if they make a playoff run.
The MMQB spoke with Kamara last week about the drama surrounding his college team, his relationship with Drew Brees, and his very distinct look.
Have you been paying attention to what’s going on at Tennessee?
Yeah, for sure. I can’t really run from it. [Laughs.] Yeah, I’ve been seeing it. It’s crazy how it’s been unfolding. I don’t know. It’s ugly. That’s all I can say.
Before Tennessee though, you started your college career at Alabama. You’ve talked about how you needed to grow up back then. You had an injury and then got suspended. [Editors note: Alabama suspended Kamara from its bowl game that year, around the same time that he was arrested for driving with a suspended license. Then Alabama released Kamara from his scholarship.]
What happened during your time there? How did it help you grow?
I got injured, and I’d never been injured in my life playing football. I didn’t really handle that real well. A lot of what I dealt with stemmed off that. I just didn’t know how to deal with that. It was just a learning experience for me. You go from playing, being the best player, to being injured, it was hard for me. Looking back on it, I could’ve dealt with it a different way. But I grew and I learned from it.
Then you transferred to Hutchinson Community College in Kansas. What’s there to do in Hutchinson, Kansas?
There ain’t s--- to do in Hutchinson, Kansas.
How’d you pass the time then?
You can call my JUCO coach, I still talk to him to this day. I used to go from class to my dorm room, to practice, back to my dorm room. I didn’t do nothing else. We were like 45 minutes from Wichita and Wichita State. Kansas State was up in … I can’t remember … Manhattan? Guys would go over there and try to have fun, and I was like, man, it’s not even real college. I’m just trying to do my time to get out of here as fast as I can. I’ve got stuff I’m trying to do. That’s really it. I was counting down [the days] from the day I got there.
I think I read somewhere that while you were in Kansas was when you got your nose pierced? Why’d you decide to do that?
Yeah, I just did it. I wanted it, and I just did it.
I saw a picture of you from a recent game, and you had your nose ring in and it looked like you had a gold grill on. Do you wear all of that stuff during the game?
Yeah, my whole college career I wore gold teeth every game. Two games ago I was like, man, I’m going to start doing that again. That was the last little piece that was missing, that I used to do. I was like, I’m going to bring it back. Because [our colors] are black and gold. I wore [the teeth] off the field. I was just like, man, I’m going to wear them in the game. When I was at Tennessee, they were like, that’s crazy. And then I just kept doing it. No one really said nothing, so I was like, whatever.
Do your teammates say anything about it?
No, not really. The only one who said something … before I even touched the field, like when I first came [to New Orleans], Cam Jordan was like, “Oh here we go, all you young guys, you millennials. You’ve got two nose rings?” Just trying to crack on me a little bit. He was just playing.
Do you get any compliments going around New Orleans with the teeth and the nose rings?
Yeah, I mean everyone I guess has taken to it. Now I think a lot of people recognize me off that. I might be on the highway and I’m going like 60 [m.p.h.]. It’s weird when you see somebody on the highway and they’re going the same exact speed as you, and they’re just staring in my car. I look over and they’re like, “It’s you!” and they’re pointing at their nose or something. I’m like, what the hell? [Laughs.] Nah, it’s all good.
So there was nothing to do in Hutchinson. Now you’re in New Orleans, a pretty happening city. What’s it like living there? Do you have your favorite spots you go to?
Yeah, New Orleans is cool. There’s a lot of good food, a lot of stuff to do. I’ve really been chilling though, honestly. I try to hit all of the food spots, but I don’t really do too much.
What’s your favorite food spot?
See, I haven’t been to all of them yet, so I can’t say a favorite. I’ve been to some good breakfast spots out here. Ruby Slipper. Another Broken Egg. There’s some good spots. Drago’s — with the charbroiled oysters. There’s a lot. I’m still diving into all the little food spots.
I just went down a street that I’ve never been down the other day. It’s Magazine Street. I mean, I’ve been down it, but I’ve never been all the way down. There’s so much stuff. I was like, I’ve gotta come down here more. I’m just gonna park and walk down and hit all the little spots.
I read that your mother is Liberian, and that she was escaping civil war when she emigrated to America. Has she told you any stories about that time in her life?
Yeah, she’s told me some stories. But, you know… Yeah, she told me some stories.
O.K., but you don’t want to share them.
I mean, yeah, they’re explicit. I don’t think you want to share them.
No, I’m fine sharing them, if you’re comfortable sharing.
Nah, I’ll pass on it.
O.K., changing gears. When you got to New Orleans, you were behind Adrian Peterson on the depth chart. What was it like being around him? What’d you pick up from him?
It was cool. He’s a legend. Adrian, he’s going to be a Hall of Famer. It’s not so much that that guy is teaching you things. You’re really just watching, trying to emulate, pick up on the things that they do—and just do them. Adrian is not only a good football player. Off the field he’s a good man, like a genuinely good person. I learned a lot from him on the football field and a lot from him as a man, in the short time that I had with him.
Now you’re splitting carries with Mark Ingram and you guys are doing a tandem thing. You split carries at Tennessee, too. Why do you think you’ve been able to thrive in that kind of set up? How do you and Mark make it work so well?
I think especially in the NFL, you’ve got to have two backs to have a successful run game. With me and Mark, we just work well together. There’s no animosity, no type of friction between us. It’s really like a big brother-little brother relationship. Off the field, it’s the same thing. We want to see each other do well. I think that’s the biggest thing helping us.
What’s it been like working with Drew Brees? What’s it like catching passes from him? How do you guys work together?
Man, Drew is incredible. It’s different when you’re watching him from afar, on TV. Like, oh my gosh, that’s Drew Brees. He’s so good. When you see him in person, you understand why he’s so good. Every day it’s the same thing. He’s a model of consistency, from his warm ups to just everything. The man like grabs Gatorade out of the cooler the same way every time. Everything he does is professional.
In the pass game, you’re like his safety valve. How much are you guys discussing your role in the passing game?
It’s just little things. We might be on the sidelines, with a drive coming up, I just go to him and pick his brain. “What do you think about this next drive?” You know, if I run a route, I immediately go to Drew and say, “Was that good?” Just trying to get any type of feedback, good or bad. We work after practice, we work during practice. Me and Drew, I think our relationship is good—super good.
Did you watch Reggie Bush growing up?
Yeah, of course! If you were a football player, if you were a running back, if you were an offensive player that gets the ball … If you didn’t watch him you’re stupid.
Yeah, well, it seems like you’re playing a similar role that Reggie did about 10 years ago, as a runner and a receiving threat out of the backfield. Did you model your game after him? Look up to him as an idol?
I wouldn’t say model my game, but I was definitely aware of the things that he was doing. And now that I’m kinda in the same role—the Reggie Bush, Darren Sproles role—it’s like … I mean, it’s really an honor.
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