Graves realized last year that the state title was merely the culmination of three years of hard work and sacrifice. Understanding what it took to get the championship made winning all the more satisfying.
"When you work so hard for three years for something and you finally achieve it, it means something more," he said. "We worked three hard years and when we finally got it, the feeling was indescribable."
Not one to rest on his laurels, Graves has refocused his energies toward a repeat performance. Winning a state championship was special. Winning two in a row would be a real milestone and he's taken a leadership role on the team to help them get back to the championship game.
"I will be in my fourth year starting and I have started at defensive end all four years, but I may get a little chance to play outside linebacker this season," he said. "We are going to be as good as we want to be. We have been working out hard. It is all going to depend on how hard we work. We are keeping them working hard. Team speed is our strength along with technique."
The Meadowbrook coaching staff implemented a rugged off-season conditioning program last year and it paid off with a championship. There is no let-up in the intensity of the offseason program now that the team has won a championship.
"They work us a lot and make sure we are mentally and physically tough," Graves said. "That was one of our strengths last year was being physically and mentally tougher than the other teams and just outlasting them. We are running 20's and a drill we call 'the circle drill.' We are also doing ten reps of push-ups, sit-ups, up-downs, and star-jumps. We do these on Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday."
As a fourth-year starter, Graves understands that he is a role model for his team's younger players. He wants to be the kind of player that the younger guys seek out for advice and guidance.
"I took some of the younger kids out to get some pizza … we are kind of a young team," he said. "We want to get the chemistry down. The seniors know what it takes to win a state championship."
John Graves has a goal to win a championship at every level that football takes him. That's why he isn't concerned about leaving his home state to play football at the next level. Both Virginia and Virginia Tech have offered, but he's looking into other programs out of state, also. Distance will not be a factor but having a chance to win a national championship will.
"Honestly distance doesn't bother me at all," he said. "I want to go to a team that has a great chance of winning the national championship. Whatever team I can help win that is what is most important to me. That is my main goal, besides the educational factor."
The only camp Graves attended this summer was at Maryland where he enjoyed the competition. He hasn't been able to visit a lot of schools this summer but he's eager to check out their campuses. Of his four favorites, he's waiting for one of them to offer a scholarship.
"Florida is still one of the top four without a doubt," he said. "Unfortunately, I don't have an offer, but maybe I can take an official visit down there. I also like Georgia, Virginia Tech and Virginia.
While the Gators haven't offered, the appeal of Florida is not diminished. He talked about Florida and his other favorite schools.
FLORIDA: "I like the scenery that I have seen from afar … the history, the coaching staff … I can go on. It just seems like a great place to be, but unfortunately I haven't been there yet. I am looking forward to going down there sometime. I would really like a chance to go down to Florida and visit. Coach Gonzalez is recruiting me at Florida and they are recruiting me as a defensive end."
GEORGIA: "I like that they have offered me a scholarship and they believe in me. Their coaching staff is really nice and they are class act guys. I like the history of Georgia football too."
VIRGINIA TECH: "It's a close drive and again they have a great history. I have met a lot of the coaches and that was good."
VIRGINIA: I also had a chance to meet their coaches and I have known them for a while. They were the first to offer me, so that is special. I really like Coach (Al) Groh."
He's got other offers, but it is these four schools that stand out above the others.
"These four schools are pretty much on even grounds," he said. "They are the ones that are on top right now and stand out above the others right now. There is a chance that I could find another school that I like eventually."
Besides a chance to win championships, Graves has other priorities that have to be met before he makes a final decision.
"The educational factor is important … they need to have whatever it is I decide to major in," he said. "Right now, I am thinking along the lines of criminal justice or political science. The recruiting class that comes in and the social class of the players at the school are also very important factors in my decision."
Recruiting is important, but for John Graves, the main goal is to do all that he can to help his team regain that euphoric feeling of a state championship. He knows that if does his part on the field as a player and off the field as a leader, the team will reach its goals and recruiting will take care of itself.