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Rebel Yell
04-16-2010, 12:17 PM
TE prospect adept at overcoming obstacles
by Jason Cole, Yahoo! Sports

CORAL GABLES, Fla. – The muscles in Jimmy Graham’s sculpted neck and shoulders clench as his face gets darkly serious. As Graham sits in a restaurant roughly a mile from the University of Miami, where he played tight end last year after a four-year career there in basketball, he is getting ready to block.

The memories of his mother’s mistreatment of him, that is.

“I laugh when people say, ‘Oh, he’s a basketball player, let’s see if he’s tough enough [for the NFL],’ ” Graham said following a workout last Thursday. Earlier in the day, Graham met with Cleveland Browns tight ends coach Steve Hagen, one of many NFL types to take interest in him of late. “They don’t understand what I’ve been through.”

For most of an hour-and-half long conversation, Graham’s otherwise positive nature comes sparkling through. He is a story in achievement, a poor kid who bounced from one residence to another and was even placed in a group home by his mother. He was once a failing student as a freshman in high school in Goldsboro, N.C., yet went on to graduate college in four years with a double major in business and marketing.

At his graduation in May 2009, Graham received special recognition from UM for overcoming obstacles. He stood next to school president Donna Shalala, who had taken such an interest in Graham that she even advised him to give football a chance.

“You could see that he was passionate about what he was doing when he played basketball,” Shalala said. “He played with everything he had … he has a kind of inner spirit that, deep down, you get the feeling he thinks he’s the luckiest guy on earth.

“He loved school, loved going to class, loved playing, the whole thing. He didn’t just come here to play sports. He came here for the whole experience – sometimes you take chances on young people from troubled backgrounds and it doesn’t work out. Sometimes you take a chance and you get Jimmy Graham.”

Now, Graham stands roughly two weeks from turning his one season of college football into perhaps being a second- or third-round pick in the NFL draft. The 6-foot-7, 260-pound Graham, who ran a stunning 4.50 40-yard dash at the NFL scouting combine, has a couple of lingering questions to answer for people around the league.

Can he parlay his superior athleticism into being another Marcus Pollard(notes) or Antonio Gates(notes), college basketball players who thrived as NFL tight ends? Can he make it through the rigors of the professional game, which is as much mentally draining as it is physically? Can he simply take a hit?

Graham doesn’t dismiss those questions. They are fair and his football résumé is too short for concrete answers. That said, there’s no pain he hasn’t felt already.

True adversity
Try as he may, there is no blocking out the memory of him falling asleep in the backseat of his mother’s car when he was 11 years old, then waking up at a group home to find his mother signing the papers to give him away, his older sister crying and yelling for his mother not to do it. There’s no forgetting his mother leaving after dropping off his clothes and belongings in a pair of garbage bags. Or the picture etched in his mind of him trying not to cry that night as he stayed in a room with two boys who were both at least two years older. Or how he was beaten again and again by the other boys, all of them older and some well on their way to delinquency.

One time, as 15 of the boys sat in a van during a field trip, the adults from the group home stopped, got out and left the children alone. One by one, the older boys took turns punching Graham until the biggest of them, a kid Graham remembers as Danny, readied to take his shot. As Danny loaded his fist, Graham decided to go pre-emptive, hitting the bigger kid first.

The first-strike set off a reaction. The rest of the kids wailed on Graham, pinning him beneath one of the bench seats. The last thing he remembered was Danny’s knee pinned against his temple. He heard a crack before the adults returned to break it up.

“I was in bed for like four days after that,” said Graham, who has never met his real father even though he’s named after him. “I called my mom to tell her. ‘Mom, I’m really hurting.’

“ ‘Sorry, I can’t do anything for you,’…” Graham said, mimicking his mother’s response and then hanging up an imaginary phone.

Graham’s dysfunctional family story is a common theme in the NFL. From Jason Taylor(notes) to Jeremy Shockey(notes) to Chad Ochocinco(notes), there are plenty of prominent players who have come from broken families.

For most of the others, there seems to be someone in their family who stood up for them. For Taylor and Shockey, it was their mothers. For Ochocinco, his grandmother.

Graham never found that kind of support until he left his family. His “grandmother” (Graham refers to the mother of his former stepfather that way) once told him in all seriousness, “Boy, you better learn to beg for quarters,” implying that he had no hope for a successful future.

Graham wasn’t just literally the redheaded stepchild. He was the redheaded stepchild who was also the product of a black father and white mother in a family where tolerance wasn’t a high priority.

“My grandmother was pretty racist,” Graham said.

After his mother divorced his stepfather when he was 9, she left him with the stepfather for a year. After she took Graham back, she gave him up again when her boyfriend, who Graham said beat him on occasion, told her to dump him.

“Here I am, 11 years old, and I had more common sense about who this guy was than my mother,” said Graham, who spent a year in the group home before his mother came back to get him. “It ends up that he was married, too, cheating on his wife with my mom the whole time.”

Graham isn’t looking for sympathy, just stating the facts at this point. These days, his connection to his mother is tenuous. They talk once every couple of weeks and Graham has a wall of mental blockers up against her.

“I tell her, ‘I forgive you, but I’ll never forget,’ ” Graham said.

The rest at....http://www.allcanes.com/blog/