Badgers' Graham becomes action hero
He wasn't trying to impress Bret Bielema, then in his second season as the University of Wisconsin football coach.
He didn't intend to turn the stomachs of his teammates in the huddle.
Yet Graham, now a fifth-year senior tight end, accomplished all of the above in Week 5 of the 2007 season during a 37-34 victory over Michigan State.
"It made a huge statement to me about his mental attitude, his toughness and his desire to win," Bielema said Tuesday during the second day of the Big Ten Conference preseason meetings. "That's when he was just beginning to understand who he was."
Today, Graham is considered one of the conference's top tight ends, a well-built, 6-foot-4, 252-pounder who is a threat as a blocker and a receiver. Graham has 70 catches for 868 yards and nine touchdowns over the last two seasons. With a solid senior season he could push his way into the first two rounds of the 2010 National Football League draft.
But back to the third quarter of the 2007 game.
Graham absorbed a blow to his left forearm from the helmet of a defender but didn't think anything was amiss and trotted back to the huddle.
"Then the blood started to flow pretty good," Graham said.
According to Graham, guard Kraig Urbik began having intestinal issues.
"I think Urbik was gagging," he said. "Everybody in the huddle told me to get out of the game."
Graham sprinted to the sideline; the medical staff examined the wound, which was several inches long; and Bielema was told Graham might be done for the day.
However, after the staff cleaned out the wound and used 11 stitches to close it, Graham returned early in the final quarter.
"What took so long is they had to pick out all those little black pellets from the FieldTurf," Graham explained. "There were like 50 or 60 in there."
Graham, from Brick, N.J., is reserved, a bit superstitious, believes humility trumps hype and didn't focus on a possible NFL career until recently.
His favorite quote: "Be humble in your words, confident in your actions."
"I don't know who said it," he said. "I just think it's better to not talk a lot and look like an idiot. I don't run my mouth."
Graham's No. 1 superstition?
He must cut his fingernails two days before every game. It's a routine that started at Memorial High School.
"If they are too short it kind of gets in my head when I'm catching the ball," he said.
And if they're too long?
"You end up jamming them and everything when you're blocking," he said.
As for the NFL, Graham explored his options after last season and was told by the NFL advisory board he would go in the fourth or fifth round. Graham, eight credits shy of a degree in sociology, insists he never intended to leave and that the inquiry was motivated by curiosity.
He wasn't in a hurry to turn pro because until his junior year of high school he didn't think he'd receive a scholarship offer.
"Only one guy at my school had ever gone Division I," he said.
Graham soon should be the only Memorial graduate to be selected in the NFL draft.
Bielema is more than willing to give NFL scouts a glowing evaluation, beginning with the toughness Graham displayed in 2007.
"He kind of embodies all the things we like about Wisconsin," Bielema said.
2009 UW Football Schedule
Sept. 5: Northern Illinois, 6 p.m., Big Ten Network (Hall of Fame Day)
Sept. 12: Fresno State, 11 a.m., ESPN or ESPN2
Sept. 19: Wofford, 11 a.m., Big Ten Network, (Band Day)
Sept. 26: Michigan State, TBA
Oct. 3: At Minnesota, TBA
Oct. 10: At Ohio State, TBA
Oct. 17: Iowa, 11 a.m.
Oct. 31: Purdue, TBA (Badger Blast)
Nov. 7: At Indiana, TBA
Nov. 14: Michigan, TBA (Parents Day, W Club Day)
Nov. 21: At Northwestern, TBA
Dec. 5: At Hawaii, TBA