In today's NFL, it's not quite enough to be just a running back. The days of the bruising between-the-tackles star are over. Now, if you want to be a star runner, you also have to be a playmaker: able to scrap for three yards up the middle, but also to peel out of the backfield to grab six passes a game—and maybe return a few kicks in between. Most crucially: You need whatever superpower allows you to vanish into thin air, leaving defenders to tackle the spot where you just were. Basically, you need to be Alvin Kamara.
In his first season with the New Orleans Saints, Kamara bruised and sprinted and snagged passes, all while wearing the septum piercing and gold fronts he rocks in-game. And good lord did he make defenders miss. He did it so often that he racked up more than 700 yards passing and receiving, and found himself in the end zone sixteen times (once on a 106-yard kickoff return) on his way to capturing a Rookie of the Year trophy that now sits on his closet floor.
That the trophy remains in its box in Kamara's downtown New Orleans apartment is perhaps the best indicator of what he thinks he's capable of. The third 700/700 season by a rookie in history, and a first-round playoff win for his team? Closet-worthy.
He's after bigger game.
GQ: Back in May, you said you had watched your rookie-year highlights for the first time. Had you avoided them for a reason?
Alvin Kamara: I didn't really avoid them. I'm not really one to watch myself. Once the season ended, I wasn't really interested in going back. Me and my friends was all at my house, we was just watching everybody's highlights, and then I went, they was like, "Man, we gotta watch your highlights. Them shits cold." And I'm like, "Bro, I ain't even watched my highlights." So they was like, "Oh, yeah, we definitely watching them."
And what was that experience like?
I ain't really realize what all I did until I watched. I was like, "Man, I did that?"
The NFL's a tricky place to be loud and expressive and have fun these days. But that doesn't feel like the case for you.
I just do what I do. I'm not really too worried about all that. Of course, I'm not just out here doing crazy stuff, but I'm not really—I'll just say I'm not scared to be me. How they take it is how they take it.
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I feel like that extends to your choice to live in downtown New Orleans, instead of out in the suburbs by the practice facility or something.
I couldn't leave the facility and drive two minutes and be at my house and act like, "Yeah, this is where I wanna live." Shoot, I want to live downtown, so I'm about to go live downtown.
You walk home after home games. What's that like?
I'm not really looking for the attention when I'm walking. We leave the locker room, me and whoever it is that came to the game, family, friends, and we just walk. Sometimes it's an issue. It'll be hot, or it'll be raining. They're like, "Man, we gonna have to call an Uber." And I'm like, "Shit, all right. I'll meet y'all at the house. I'm walking." I guess that kinda turned into a ritual.
Was that something that you did in high school or college, too, or something you started when you got to the league?
I just started. I live close to the stadium, so I was like, "I might as well walk." It's easier. And it just makes sense. It's harder to get in the car and drive from the game because there's so much traffic. I'm not about to call a Uber. I'm not about to take a taxi, because a taxi from the stadium to my house would probably be $30, when I could walk and get there in 10 minutes. It just makes sense.
It doesn't seem like you have to worry about a $30 taxi anymore, though.
It's still $30. It don't make sense. I'm not about to pay you $30 to take me four or five lights down the street. Like, it's not happening. And then they be trying to finesse on game day. They like, "It's $30 plus six dollars a person." And I'm like, "All right, fuck you. I'm about to go. That's cool." And I just keep walking.
What's something you didn't get a chance to do your rookie year that you want to do this year?
I pretty much did everything I wanted to do, I guess. It wasn't really nothing I missed, I don't think.
Where do you keep your Rookie of the Year award?
It's in the closet.
It's just...in the closet?
Yeah, it's under a whole bunch of shit, honestly. I can't even lie. I haven't found a spot. I haven't put it up nowhere or nothing. It's still in the case that they sent it to me in. I opened it once, I looked at it, and I put it in the closet.
Why is that?
I mean, I'll send you a picture of where it's at. I don't know. I don't really got nowhere to put it, and it's cool. Dope, trophies.
Tell me about your nose ring.
It was just something where I was like, "I'm gonna do it. Fuck it."
Did you have a nose ring role model?
Nah, not really. You see people with nose rings all the time. And then people be like, "Ah, you got a nose ring because of Young Thug or Lil Uzi." I'm like, "Nah, not really. I just got a nose ring 'cause I wanted it. I mean, you saw them with it and you don't got one, so..."
I would be terrified to play with that thing in.
It's not that bad.
You gotta think. Go through a whole season and count up how many people get their helmets ripped off, and it's not really a lot.
It's just gotta be one!
Yeah, I mean, that's true. But I'm not too worried about it. Stay away from dudes and you'll be all right.
Does anyone ever trash talk you about it on the field?
Every game. They always talk shit. People always be like, "Ah, little Young Thug motherfucker. I'm gonna pull your nose ring out." And I just be laughing.
What's your response?
"Is that what you worried about right now?" And I just smile. Because you know I wear my gold teeth, so I just smile at them and then it's someone else talking about, "Ah, you got gold teeth in." I'm like, "Okay. Obviously, y'all not paying attention to the score."
The fact that you and the Migos were in high school at the same time in the same city, and that you are where you are now, is pretty incredible.
It's just good to have friends that—we're not doing the same thing, but it's the same thing, you know? Back then they talked about, "Man, we gonna be the biggest shit in rap." And that's what happened. And I was like, "Man, I'm about to be the shit. I'm about to do this or do that in football." And now it's like, Damn, it's happening. It's just dope to have friends that are on the same level as you.
Did you believe them when they said that back in the day?
Do you see any similarities between their music and the way you play football?
Oh, everything. They're going for everything they want. I've been in the studio when they made some of the hits. And it's like: Oh, yeah. That's a hit. It's over with. It's gone. That's the same way I be feeling when I'm on the field. I hear the play call and I'm like, "Oh, yeah. Come on. Give me that. I need it right now. I'm gone. It's over with."
Styled by Kelly McCabe / Grooming by John Wright using Kiehl's.