Things unfolded in alignment with Matt Peart's fondest dreams, so much so, it was hard to believe it was real when his phone rang late Friday night and the Giants were on the other end.
"When I got the call, it was definitely a big surreal feeling," Peart told New York reporters on a conference call. "My mom started going crazy. I had family members do a ZOOM call and they were going crazy over the computer. So it was just a great time being able to experience everyone that's near and dear to my heart, just happy and joyous for the moment."
Peart, born in Jamaica, grew up in the Bronx as a Giants fan, an Eli Manning fan, and this was long before he'd even played any football. He switched from basketball when he got to prep school, The Governor's Academy in Byfield, Mass., a Giants fan playfully sparring with teachers who rooted for the Super Bowl rival Patriots.
Then he got to UConn, and football became his ambition. After four years, 48 starts, with personal development in spite of the Huskies' lack of success, he was there when the Giants were ready to use their third-round, compensatory pick, No. 99 overall.
"It's rare to describe someone as 315 pounds and skinny," Giants coach Joe Judge said, "but that's what he is. He's an athletic guy, he has a lot of length to him. We feel good about his character and his work ethic. He's excited to come on in here and work hard and we can't wait to get him on the field."
The Giants have been struggling to rebuild their offensive line for several seasons, and when they used their first-round pick, No 4 overall, to take Georgia's Andrew Thomas, GM Dave Gettleman said he wanted to fix the line "once and for all." They were looking for an interior, guard-center type, but Peart, 6 feet 7 and 318 pounds, with his raw talent _ speed, agility and unusually long, 36 |-inch arms _ was too interesting for them to pass up. They had reached out to Peart during the long, mostly "virtual" pre-Draft process and liked what they heard, especially after his impressive performances in the Senior Bowl and the Combine before the coronavirus shut things down.
"We just got a really good value with Matt Peart," Gettleman said. "He's a solid prospect and we got a really good value."
Peart's family moved from the Bronx to Fishkill, N.Y., an hour north of the city, last year, and he watched the NFL Draft with his mother, Faith, and other family and friends connected on line. It was near midnight when the Giants made the pick.
"Growing up in New York," Peart said, "I kind of fell in love with the Knicks and then also the Giants soon after that. Just watching them on the TV, just the culture and everything the Giants stand for was something that was appealing for me as a young kid. Especially growing up, especially that moment in high school when they had that Super Bowl win my freshman year (in 2012). That was a very, very fun time for me."
Manning is Peart's favorite Giant, but he misses the chance to block for him by one year; Manning retired after the 2019 season. But Peart, Thomas and Shane Lemieux, a guard from Oregon the Giants took in the fourth round, could form the core that protects quarterback Daniel Jones and opens holes for Saquon Barkley for years to come. Peart and Thomas trained together in Florida before the NFL Combine in February.
The Giants drafted Will Beatty, a tackle out of UConn in the second round in 2009 and he had a long, successful career, ending in 2017. Now, Peart will join as many as nine fellow Huskies in the NFL, including Pro Bowl players Byron Jones, with the Dolphins, and Anthony Sherman, with the Super Bowl champion Chiefs.
"I always wanted to be a Giant and I'm just happy to put on the blue," Peart said. "It still feels so surreal to me and I'm just looking forward to the future."