Program Spotlight: T.J. Graham
Dec. 8, 2011
Raleigh, N.C. - Not many ACC football players get to cap off their career holding an ACC record. The league has stretched over 59 years, and numerous All-Americans and NFL Draft picks have played in this conference.
Senior wide receiver T.J. Graham is an exception.
In Pack's 37-13 home win over No. 7 Clemson a couple of weeks ago, Graham became the ACC's all-time leader in kickoff return yardage. Heading into his final game at NC State at the Belk Bowl, Graham has amassed 3,090 kickoff return yards during his four-year career.
"That record means a lot to me," said Graham. "I've put a lot of hard work into my career, and returning kicks was the way I got onto the field my freshman year. That was the way I contributed to the team that year, and just over the years, I've always taken pride in being a top returner to help out this team.
"It is a great milestone, and something I will look back upon with a great sense of accomplishment."
After a stellar career at local Wakefield High School, Graham stepped onto the field as a true freshman in 2008. He finished 29th nationally in kickoff return yards, and was named an honorable mention All-ACC performer.
But while Graham was good at being a special teams player, he came to NC State to be a wide receiver.
During his freshman campaign, Graham finished with 16 catches while making six starts. The next season started promising, but his season was cut short with a stress fracture and was forced to miss five games.
Graham returned to form last season, finishing second on the squad with four touchdown receptions.
"Over the years, I have always just been learning from the guys around me," said Graham. "This year, it was my turn and my chance to step up to be a go-to guy in this offense. I have worked on everything since I was a freshman, to become a better player on the field. I always stay and work on running routes and focus on catching the ball."
As a senior leader, Graham has been the Pack's top wideout all season and was named to the Biletnikoff Watch List. He leads the Pack in catches, yards receiving and touchdown catches this season.
"Even though I'm a senior, I'm constantly learning the game of football," said Graham. "Coming here was the best thing for me, learning how to be an offensive player under Coach Bible. I know I'm fast, but there is so much more to football and I have learned so much from NC State and this coaching staff."
Graham has been fortunate to work with the same offensive coordinator and position coach in Dana Bible since he stepped on campus. Bible has seen first-hand the progression Graham has made over the years, and seen how he has improved.
"I think what is note worthy is that he is comfortable in being a first-class wide receiver," said Bible. "He has always felt confident in his abilities as being a special teams performer for us, but I think particularly he feels good about himself in his wide receiver role. I think that has definitely expressed itself in this, his senior season.
"This season he has been such an important key to us stretching the field and just our passing game overall. He has taken on that role of being a leader for us."
After a three-year break from his sprinting career, Graham joined the NC State track team once football was done following the 2010 campaign. He finished second at the ACC Indoor Championships in both the 60-meter and 200-meter, and then went on to earn second-team All-America honors with his 11th place finish in the 60m.
"Track this past offseason helped improve my speed and quickness," said Graham. "Track is always something I have enjoyed, but I know that part of my life is over now and I want to focus in the spring on training for a shot in the NFL."
After Graham's days at NC State are done, he will be keeping a close eye on his sister Ariah who has won numerous awards as a sprinter at Wakefield High School and is still deciding where to run in college.
"She is another fast Graham," said older brother T.J. "I would love to see her competing for NC State, keeping it in the family."
Graham was joined for the Pack's Senior Day in the pregame festivities by his parents and his sister. Senior day is always an emotional time for players, and Graham will be the first to admit that knowing he will never be running out of the tunnel again onto Carter-Finley is going to be a bit tough experience for him.
"I can tell you, I will be trying not to think of that moment because I'm pretty sure I will get emotional when the realization hits me," says Graham. "It is going to be tough, I know that ahead of time.
"Being from here, and being a fan of NC State growing up, seeing the Wolfpack run out of that tunnel every Saturday was the coolest thing for me as a kid. I still remember my first time running out as a freshman. It was just a great feeling, and not something too many people get to experience."
The Pack might of done it the hard way, but NC State is once again going bowling this season, having won five of the final seven games.
"(After out loss to Boston College) we were down, but that's when we play our best, when our backs are against the wall and stuff like that," said Graham. "We're not a front-running type team. We like to be in a hole, it's kind of fun. You've noticed for the past couple of years we've made it tough on ourselves somehow, we always come out."
By Brian Reinhardt