Even though Khalid Kareem signed his first NFL contract Thursday, he could paint you a picture why football doesn't define him. In fact, the Bengals rookie defensive end already did in one of his last official acts before leaving Notre Dame in December.
"I don't have a name for it," Kareem mused Thursday of his massive oil painting that combines elements of the six art classes he took while playing at South Bend. "I wanted to show there's more to me than just football. I love football. That's my passion, but there's always more to an individual than just being an athlete."
Yet there's no question that football is in the center, because that's him in the middle in full Fighting Irish regalia, celebrating a sack, he thinks, against Pitt. The canvas converts to the camera, where Kareem always wants to be in the eye.
"He just plays the game the right way, always hustling to the ball," Kareem said of one of his favorites, Arizona sack ace Chandler Jones. "Same thing with Everson Griffen. "They never lay down on the field. They're always around the ball. They're always in the picture."
Kareem channeling Chandler is a good place to start when examining why the Bengals sifted him out of the fifth round. (And don't write off the 147th pick. In the previous seven drafts the Bengals have taken in the fifth round such productive players as Marvin Jones, George Iloka, A.J. McCarron, C.J. Uzomah and Darius Phillips).
The 6-4, 270-pound Kareem uses his 34-inch plus arms to his advantage on the bull rush and takes note of the way Jones stabs with those arms to free himself of blockers.
And then there is that load of intangibles. The get-in-the-frame hustle. A Notre Dame captaincy. A 3.8 grade point average at his Farmington, Mich., high school that allowed him to enroll at South Bend early. A degree in business management consulting. The minor in studio art.
When you get right down to it, Kareem is more of a traditionalist than impressionist. He likes to play both the run and the pass and most of all be a good teammate. He kept the Kareem family tradition going of "K," first names when he named his new German shepherd "Kreed." It seems his college roommate had a dog named, "Apollo."
"I think I'm a balanced player. I can stop the run, but I can cause some havoc on third down," Kareem said. "I think I'm a good guy in the locker room. A good team guy. Do whatever my role is and excel at it."
The Bengals can't get enough of those locker-room guys and starting out, his role is going to be pretty basic. Maybe 10 snaps a game or so coming off the edge, where he had 5.5 sacks last season for the Irish.
The defensive line, where veterans such as Carlos Dunlap, Sam Hubbard and Carl Lawson roam at end, is the deepest position on the team and Kareem knows he'll learn plenty from them. Hubbard, the Cincinnati native, reached out to his fellow Midwesterner right after the draft and Kareem, a native of suburban Detroit, admits this place reminds him of home.
But he'd love to meet those guys in person. And he's not the only one. They're getting antsy.
The rookies reported to their first day of work Tuesday for Covid-19 testing in the Paul Brown Stadium players' parking lot. They couldn't stay and had to go back home if they've got one or to the hotel. They get tested again Friday and wait some more. If they're OK, maybe, depending on talks between the NFL and the NFL Players Association, they can take their physicals Sunday and, maybe, get on the field.
Until then? More Zoom meetings. More workouts. Kareem has become friendly with some of his teammates only through workouts at the Northern Kentucky gym PeakFAST Fitness, where he's hooked about with a group of last year's rookies such as Rodney Anderson, Trayveon Williams, Fred Johnson and Michael Jordan.
"(The Zoom meetings) are very informative," Kareem said. "You sit in there for a few hours and it's similar to being in the meeting rooms. But it's still not like being out there with the guys in the walk-through. That's the biggest thing missing from this."
The virtual meetings nowadays probably only last about an hour. After Kareem works out for two hours, he most likely comes back to his Hyde Park town home to hang out with one-year-old Kreed and delve into the playbook or maybe watch a movie.
These guys have had it. If you think you're ready for some football …
"Even before the corona I didn't go out much," Kareem said. "I'm not really a big guy for going out. I'm not really (going out) unless it's necessary. I'm being cautious. Always wear the mask. Keep the hand cleaner in the car. I'm trying to be as safe as possible."
But he's busy enough that he hasn't started painting again after finishing the 60-by-48 opus that was the final assignment for an independent study class. He's always been into art and actually got so far ahead in his courses that he took jewelry-making during his last term in high school.
He's been painting oils only since his sophomore year at South Bend, when an activity adviser told him college is probably the last time you can try something new for free.
"I wanted to make something to show people what helped me make me who I am," he said of his big college finish.
So around his self-portrait he has brushed his clues. Images from the pop culture of his youth, such as Max Goof, a hero from one of the cartoons he loved to watch. Initials of his four siblings. The ND brand. One of the head scarves his mother has worn since her kids can remember. A tie his father gave him.
"That symbolizes they're my foundation. My family is behind me, in a sense," Kareem said. "And then everything else is just me."
But he didn't have to paint the Bengals a picture. They saw him on camera.