Eric Graham concentrated on what the Iowa players told him about the school and football program on his official visit there last weekend. How they felt was key. It would be their steps he'd be tracing.
The Hawkeyes translated their positive experiences to the Alabama running back, leaving him feeling good about how he'd fit there. Then, he connected with his host.
Junior cornerback Maurice Fleming finished high school in Chicago. He spent much of his life in Birmingham.
"That's about an hour and a half away from me," Graham said. "He speaks my language, as in Alabama talk. He understands me and I'm glad that Coach (Kirk) Ferentz and Coach (Seth) Wallace put me with him."
The Southerners can grow their relationship in the future after Graham signed a national letter of intent with Iowa Wednesday. The 5-foot-10, 200-pounder from Autauga Academy (Prattville, AL) picked up a Hawkeye scholarship offer earlier that morning, according to his coach, Mike Sims.
Sims said Iowa began recruiting Graham last spring, but like other schools were worried about him qualifying academically. The coach said his star runner made it with his ACT score from December.
"We've had calls from Notre Dame and Kentucky and a lot of other schools (Mississippi State, Duke, Vanderbilt) interested and Iowa stayed with him through the process. He got all of his criteria right on the sliding scale and they hung with him and he wanted to become a Hawkeye this morning," Sims said.
Had Iowa not offered Wednesday morning, Sims said some of the other interested schools were waiting on Graham to take the ACT again this weekend, which he will do anyway.
"The way it goes with your GPA and the sliding scale, they wanted him to sure himself up with a couple of extra points on the ACT. Coach (David) Cutcliffe at Duke was waiting on this next score to come in. But Iowa stuck with him and that meant a lot to him," Sims said.
The sliding scale is shown here. In the simplest terms, the combination of the GPA and test score must reach NCAA requirements for admission into college. It sounds like Graham is on the border, so a higher ACT result this weekend could help but a drop in GPA could hurt.
"With the eligibility, we kind of swam in there," Sims said. "He's a great kid and very good in the classroom he's just not a very good test taker. That kind of worried some folks. Eric has been on the upward trend here."
The recruiting process weighed heavily on Graham. The call from Iowa Wednesday morning came as relief and joy.
"I was excited. My parents were excited. I couldn't stop smiling. I'm smiling right now. It's great to have an offer from Iowa. I'm a very strong Christian. My mom and my dad are pastors. We prayed and prayed and kept on praying. We just had God on our side," he said.
Graham reports running the 40-yard dash in 4.41 seconds. His Hudl page shows his vertical leap at 37.7 inches, his bench press at 260 pounds, his squat at 600 and his 100 meters at 11.1.
"Eric is very dynamic," Sims said. "He's a slasher. He runs with great lean. He can run away from you because of his 40. He's a very good top-end player but he's also one of those guys that can get back to 100 percent speed by the time his foot hits the ground. He does a lot of acrobatic things that you don't see guys in high school do."
The Hawkeyes return upperclassmen Jordan Canzeri and LeShun Daniels next season along with third-year sophomores Akrum Wadley and Jonathan Parker. There's opportunity for Graham to play early, although he said he has not discussed that with the coaches.
"I want to show them what I can do in the summer and see if I can stay away from red shirting," Graham said.
Autauga Academy is a small school with Graham's senior class being 39 students. The football is high level, though, Sims said. Alabama's O.J. Howard ('13) and Riley Tindol ('14) of Vanderbilt are recent graduates.
"It's typical southern football. We're a small school but we're kind of a diamond in the rough. We've got great talent here," Sims said.
Sometimes players from the South shy away from playing in the North. Graham welcomes it.
"The 13 inches of snow (that fell in Iowa City during his official visit) really got to me. We don't get that down here in Alabama. I do like the snow. I never saw that much snow in my life," he said.
Graham plans to study nursing and Iowa's offering in that major impressed him. Everything about the Big Ten school matches his desires.
"They have a great athletic program. Education wise it's good. They have one of top schools in nursing. I like to work out so I really like the weight room and how the strength and conditioning coach (Chris Doyle) is really close to the players and cares about their heath and how they should eat," he said.
Graham said his biggest strength on the football field carries over into life.
"It's never giving up and keep on trying no matter how hard it gets or how bad you're losing," he said.
That perseverance landed him in the Big Ten.