The Talk’s Akbar Gbajabiamila ‘Cold-Called’ Michael Strahan, Asked to ‘Shadow’ His Hosting Duties: ‘He’s Inspirational’

The Talk's Akbar Gbajabiamila 'Cold-Called' Michael Strahan, Asked to 'Shadow' His Hosting Duties: 'He's Inspirational'

Akbar Gbajabiamila is ready to make his debut on The Talk.

“I’ve been playing team sports my whole life, and I’ve always thrived in a team environment. So this is great,” Gbajabiamila tells PEOPLE exclusively about his new role as co-host. “I’m so happy to be a part of this, in addition to this team.”

CBS announced Thursday that Gbajabiamila will be joining the daytime talk series on the upcoming 12th season. His fellow co-hosts include Sheryl Underwood, Amanda Kloots and Jerry O’Connell.

Gbajabiamila, who currently co-hosts American Ninja Warrior, previously made a name for himself in the NFL, where he played for the San Diego Chargers, Miami Dolphins and Oakland Raiders.

And while he is now well-versed at being in front of the camera, Gbajabiamila previously sought the advice of another famous athlete-turned-TV host — Michael Strahan, who he says is “the blueprint for athletes transitioning into media.”

“We played during the same time but I never met him, never knew him. He knew my brother, but we really didn’t cross paths like that,” he recalls.

Seeking to learn from Strahan, Gbajabiamila reached out and asked if he could “shadow” the Good Morning America host, 49.

“I just cold-called and said, ‘Hey, you know, I love what you’re doing. I’m excited about what you’re doing. Can I shadow you?’ I remember meeting him at his — I don’t know what they call that in New York — one of those high-rise, fancy-schmancy condos. … Whatever it is, it was pretty fancy. I’d never seen anything like it. I met him early in the morning and we went from what he was doing with Kelly and Michael, and he then went from there to GMA. He allowed me to shadow him through the whole process.”

Gbajabiamila says the experience was “overwhelming but exciting and encouraging,” especially since Strahan is “one of the coolest dudes on the planet and such a humbling, gracious guy.”

Akbar Gbajabiamila, Michael Strahan

Akbar Gbajabiamila, Michael Strahan
Credit: getty (2)

“He was just dropping me dimes, just like, nuggets here and there, here and there. And so I’m forever grateful for that time and that opportunity,” he continues. “We still stay in contact. I was just out there to visit him, maybe about two months ago, in New York and went out to dinner or whatever. He’s been very inspirational.”

News of Gbajabiamila’s hiring comes just two days after Elaine Welteroth‘s departure following one season on the show. Carrie Ann Inaba also recently confirmed her exit after a three-season run.

As for O’Connell, he had appeared as a frequent guest on The Talk before officially becoming a co-host in July. He was a replacement for Sharon Osbourne following her controversial exit in March.

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Gbajabiamila is now using his time ahead of his The Talk debut to stay up to date on current news while also focusing on “being more introspective.”

Looking ahead, he hopes to bring a different perspective to the table when discussing an array of topics, including relationships.

“A lot of times, the male perspective hasn’t always been presented in the best light and I think those opportunities when they do come up, I feel like I will have a lot to say,” he says. “I think part of it is being transparent. I’m very transparent about my own relationship, about my own life and about some of the things that I do well in relationships and the things that I don’t do so well, and the things that I have in common with men that don’t do things so well.”

He continues, “I think being able to have that 360 look at it and be able to have that conversation, and even have an open disagreement about some of these things on-camera in front of a live audience on national television. I think it’s helpful because people [will] realize that they’re not in it by themselves.”

Teasing The Talk‘s upcoming 12th season, Gbajabiamila says: “We are about to have a party.”

“We’re gonna have a very special group of people on our first show to kick off season 12,” he shares. “Season 12 is a great number. Just think about that, I mean, this has been a staple on television for a very long time. So to be able to come in at season 12, with such a great thing, things are going to look brighter. Things are going to look, I think, sharp.”

He has also received advice from Underwood, 57, about how to best approach his new role.

“As I was going through the guest-hosting stuff, she just pulled me over to the sides and said, ‘Hey, do what got you here.’ And this is what Tupac [Shakur] told her,” he said.

Season 12 of The Talk premieres Sept. 13 on CBS.