Kayvon Thibodeaux entering sophomore season bigger, more mature and a leader originally appeared on NBC Sports Northwest
Heading into his true freshman season coming off being the nation's top-ranked recruit, Kayvon Thibodeaux made a bold proclamation.
“Ten sacks,” Thibodeaux said during Oregon's 2019 preseason media day. “I want 10 sacks. I’ve been told that if you average 10 sacks, that’s how you get to the NFL. So if I get three years of 10 sacks, that’s my minimum right now. That’s what I’m pushing for. That’s my milestone.”
Thibodeaux nearly reached his goal, setting the program freshman record with a team-high 9.0 sacks to go with 14.0 tackles for loss.
Part of that confidence came from competing with top-ranked 2021 NFL Draft prospect and reigning Outland Trophy Award winner Penei Sewell every day in practice.
"[Penei Sewell] gave me that confidence," Thibodeaux said Friday afternoon. "He's the best guy in the country so it was like, once I did that every day, I could go against everybody."
Now arriving into fall camp a sophomore, Thibodeaux realizes how immature he was a year ago when he made those comments.
"I always look at how in the beginning I said I wanted ten sacks a season and I realize how immature that was... Ten sacks? That's cute but for me now it's like, I want to be one-hundred percent on my grades, one-hundred percent on my alignments and assignment and technique... Every down I'm in... I'm mentally prepared, I'm physically prepared. I'm not tired."
Following the growth of Thibodeaux's attitude, the sophomore has stepped into a leadership role on this season's team.
"The mindset is almost completely different [than a year ago]. When I first came in I was kind of an understudy. I was learning. I was growing. Coming into this year with all that's going on, I've had to step and [take on] this leadership position on the team.
"I'm not the youngest guy in the room anymore... I've got to really be the example for everybody under me and everybody looking to see what to do."
Thibodeaux finished the 2019 season looking like one of the nation's best players, with an NCAA-leading seven fourth-quarter sacks, to the point he's mocked as the first overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft.
Then with the coronavirus hitting the United States, Thibodeaux had to go home, away from Oregon's facilities, but he wasn't going to let that get in the way of being great.
"Doing home workouts. Pushups," explained Thibodeaux. "We didn't really have weights like that so we was just going deck of cards... anything."
In addition to home workouts, he worked with his high school defensive line coach, Kai Brown, at Dorsey High School or Rancho Park. Working at his craft to set up a dominant sophomore season.
"We was just grinding. Every day," said Thibodeaux.
"He was my D-line coach in high school. We never kind of lost a relationship. He's always been there looking out for me and always keeps me on my game. He sends me different pass rush clips every week of the NFL players."
Why did Thibodeaux, a projected top overall pick, want to work with his old high school assistant coach? Beyond using his high school and college experiences as a measuring stick for what a good coach looks like, he said that Coach Kai "really cares" and takes the time to see what he needs to get better at. Oh, and one more thing.
"I like to be with people who [are] brutally honest with me. He's been that."
One piece of constructive criticism stuck out to Kayvon.
"That I'm little. I'm skinny. Playing the 4i. I don't know if everybody knows what a 4i is, but you can't play a 4i under 250... If you want to be a four-down player you have to be able to take on two blockers at once. You gotta be able to shed. You gotta be able to stay fit."
The 4i alignment means lining up on the center side of the tackle, therefor getting into better physical shape was a focus of Thibodeaux during the offseason.
"Last year, I could have been better prepared for the long drives, the long stretches, so being in shape [is key].
"Getting bigger physically: I've kind of toned my body. I'm in the 250, 255 [pound] range right now."
Fast forward to today heading into his sophomore season, Thibodeaux is offended if you call him small.
"Now, I take that as an offense... I pride myself in being as big as I can be."
His body hasn't been the only thing to undergo tremendous growth. His brain's better prepared for the mental side of football, as well.
"Playing smarter. Actually reading between the lines and learning the coverages. A lot of things I didn't know coming out of high school so I was able to get a lot smarter [since enrolling at Oregon.]"
Given the growth from year-one to year-two expected not only from the Ducks but Thibodeaux himself, the goal he sets for himself seems even loftier than ten sacks.
"Honestly it's about being perfect at this point. It's no more 'the best I can,' it's about being perfect and being consistent... Going into this year, I have all confidence going into every play."
If he's not perfect, he knows who will be in his ear.
"[Coach Kai] and Coach Moore have been brutally honest and it's honestly developed my game. They never let me take a day off. They show me the yellow brick road is there if I follow it."