Xavier McKinney exclusive: the NFL Draft, dinner with Deontay Wilder & Call of Duty with Mason Mount
"It was something that I'll never forget in my life, probably the greatest moment that I've had in a while so just bringing everybody together, my family together and enjoying the moment together, it was pretty special"
By Cameron Hogwood
Last Updated: 18/05/20 8:57am
Xavier McKinney is quizzed on the origin story of his friendship with Deontay Wilder. A follow up probe soon becomes unnecessary when, unprompted, he proceeds to recite mental annotations of his dinner meet with the former world heavyweight champion boxer in late January.
It is testament to the 20-year-old's desire to develop that a light-hearted interaction with The Bronze Bomber became part educational, the safety's on-field instinct for clues of offensive intent translating into an off-field scent for wisdom.
Introduced by his agent, McKinney archived all he could from Wilder's dose of professional advice as he set his sights on April's NFL Draft, where he was recently selected in the second round by the New York Giants.
Besides the leap in physical challenges from college to the NFL, lifestyle changes also naturally await upon entering the professional ranks. Though the pair belong to different worlds, Wilder's fraternal-like guidance to his younger athlete remains transferable.
"He's a great person, he's somebody that if you asked to sit down and talk with him and get to know him you'll love him," McKinney told Sky Sports. "I know a lot of the times what comes off is that he's this mean guy but he's actually really funny, he's a person you can just sit down and crack jokes all day with.
"It's been fun being able to talk with him and see his side of the story on how to deal with certain things, how to deal with certain people and how to handle money and life in general.
"The first time we went to dinner, he was saying a whole bunch of stuff but I was like 'man I never even thought of that', it was all stuff that made sense.
"That's why I think we connected a lot and when I met him he almost seemed like my big brother. He thought how I thought, I just didn't ever know how to put it into words."
Deviations to the course are customary to a professional athlete's life, whether it be for better or worse. At the root of talent, production and success is the mental strength to accept, harness and conquer those deviations.
It was that matching resilience and will to win that perhaps oiled the cogs of McKinney's friendship with Wilder, whose like-minded outlook was evident to the Alabama star a month prior to his defeat to Tyson Fury in their Las Vegas rematch.
"I wanted him to win, I think when you're great you can't win every time," he added. "It's really not about taking the L, it's about how you bounce back.
"You can't win every one, even the greats have lost. There will be times where things don't happen how you want them to happen but it's all about how you bounce back and keep going forward."
"That's how I look at my life, how I carry myself on the football field. If anything bad happens I just keep playing. If you dwell too much on a loss then you'll never get over it. I try to overcome that and come back stronger."
McKinney discusses his mental strength
Giants head coach Joe Judge will be eager to see the union of gridiron and boxing maintain a safe distance from the ring, McKinney admitting he politely declined the chance to spar with the six-foot-seven knockout merchant.
"A couple of times he asked me if I wanted to get in the ring with him and I'm like 'na, I'm good'," he joked.
McKinney will arrive in East Rutherford, New Jersey on the back of a deviation of his own, the rookie sliding as a major steal for the Giants at 36th overall having been widely-projected as a first-round pick.
"I was pretty upset after the first day but I tried to calm myself back down and hope for a better second day," he explained. "I knew whatever team got me at that point they were going to get a great player, a great worker and for all the teams that did pass up that's something that they're going to have to regret.
"It feels great, man. It's something I've always dreamed about, being in the NFL. Now that I'm here and being able to hear my name called on Draft night, it was pretty surreal."
"It was something that I'll never forget in my life, probably the greatest moment that I've had in a while so just bringing everybody together, my family together and enjoying the moment together, it was pretty special."
McKinney reflects on the moment he was drafted
The Roswell, Georgia native, who won the 2018 SEC Championship Game against Georgia, will line up alongside Jabrill Peppers as a key commodity within a strengthened Giants secondary. While it may not be the first-round destination he had anticipated, McKinney can begin life in the NFL knowing he is heading to a team feeling fortunate that he was available to them.
Blue is the colour for McKinney, as he will have already been taught by Chelsea's Mason Mount, with whom he has built something of a friendship with thanks to the pair belonging to the same agency.
"He (Mount) reached out to me and DM'd me and was like 'congratulations, welcome to the family' stuff like that (when he signed with his current agent)," said McKinney. "Ever since then we've been DM'ing each other.
"I've been on (Call of Duty) Warzone, he actually plays it a lot, I know the time zone is totally different but we've been trying to figure out a time when we could both play together.
"I've never been to a soccer game and never been to London, I've never really been that far out. Some of my (former Alabama) teammates like Josh Jacobs with the Raiders, they've played in London. My mum has been and I think she's been to a soccer game too so I want to be able to go to a game whenever I have time because I heard it's pretty crazy."
Such is the growth of the NFL's International Series that there is a strong possibility McKinney will get his chance to cross the pond at some stage in his career. Until then he will be brushing up on his knowledge of soccer and Chelsea Football Club in the hope of a future trip to Stamford Bridge.
"I've been wanting to get into soccer for a long time, just never really had the time to watch it," said McKinney.
"But I heard watching it on TV is way different to actually being at the game. My mum has a video of when she went to the soccer game and it was super loud, it was like some horn thing they kept blowing.
"I definitely want to be able to get to one of their games and be able to see and experience it. I'll probably become a Chelsea fan."
McKinney operates with a deep footballing IQ and astute field awareness capable of deciphering his opponents, along with the athleticism and explosion allowing coaches to use him in the box, slot and at free safety should they wish.
Off the field, he is as equally thought-provoking, multi-faceted in both interests and expertise. A hard-hitting force with the pads on, underneath them he is a gifted artist. Exhibit A: himself.
"I actually draw my tattoos, I'm working on a couple right now," he explained. "There's a lot that I draw and then I won't finish the ideas, I think what I'm starting to understand as an artist is sometimes you just start moving onto different things and you might not come back to something.
"I've got a lot of unfinished drawings that I have, a lot of unfinished thoughts that I have that I've written down in a journal that I haven't yet got to draw. I actually like art a lot, I'm around it a little bit so it's something that's definitely interested me for a long time."
Art appears to be a source of escapism for the new Giants man, a non-sporting method of channelling his creativity and expressing his personality. The words "hungry" and "humble" are tattooed on either arm, while Minions, Mario and the Tasmanian Devil also feature.
On his back McKinney pays tribute to Alabama with a large red 'A' above an elephant reminiscent of the Crimson Tide logo. In light of his recent landmark moment, might he be planning a Giants-inspired design?
"I don't know man, we've got to see, I don't want to start telling my secrets but just know there might be something coming," he said. "I don't want to tell the world yet, I want it to be a surprise."
Giants players and coaches will come to know McKinney the artist once it is finally safe to re-open team facilities amid the coronavirus pandemic.
They will also likely become familiar with the sounds of Young Thug, McKinney signposting the Atlanta rapper as his choice of artist should he get control of the locker room music.
"That's my favourite rapper so probably something from him," he said. "I'm not sure what song, really I could play anything to be honest because I'm a fan of him. Anything I listen to by him I think is good."
Unconventional circumstances have prolonged McKinney's wait for his first interaction with new teammates at the Giants facility. It's a moment he is relishing.
"I'm looking forward to it a lot, just being able to meet the guys that I'm going to go out and go to war with every day practice wise and game wise," he said.
"I just want to win. Whatever I have to do to contribute to the team I'll do, whether that's the smallest role it doesn't really matter. I just want to be a winner."
Technician, artist, winner, warrior. McKinney encapsulates the work ethic, tenacity and commitment needed in a New York project seeking progression.