It doesn't take much to get Detroit Crockett linebacker Brandon Graham to crack a smile. So when the US Army showed up at his high school yesterday to officially invite him to its annual All-Star, his bright grin hardly left his face. "It feels real good," Graham said. "I'm blessed. That's all I can say. I'm ready for it. I've just got to represent Detroit and the state of Michigan."
Graham's support system showed up in full force; parents, grandparents, aunts ,uncles, former coaches, administrators, teachers, his team, the entire senior class….seemingly everyone that had a stake in helping him earn this achievement. For them, watching Brandon be honored was almost like being honored themselves.
"It's a wonderful experience," said Graham's father Darrick Walton. "I told Brandon when he was seven years old that God got a plan for him. I've been telling him that since day one, and God isn't done with him yet. I'm a very proud dad."
That pride in his son's accomplishments extends beyond the football field. Tuesday's ceremony not only acknowledged Brandon's athletic achievements, but those on the academic side as well. "That's the main thing," Walton of his son's education. "He was so heavily recruited because his grade point average showed that he will go to class. You go to class, and that stuff on the field will work itself out. We've always been strict on class work…since he was a little kid."
Brandon's mother, Tasha Graham, echoed those sentiments. "I told him a long time ago, anyone can be a dumb jock," she said. "You're going to be the opposite. You're going to take it to another level and show them how they it should be done. A 'C' average is not acceptable to me. Be more than you think you can be. That's something I've always told him…right from the beginning."
For Ms. Graham, all of the recognition her son has received for football over the past year has come as a great surprise. It wasn't until she spoke with Michigan head coach Lloyd Carr that she understood that her son had special ability. "I didn't realize until late that he was this good," she said. "I didn't know it could end up at this level…having the opportunity to go play in San Antonio Texas, and being up for the Gatorade player of the year award. There were just a lot things I didn't know about how this could play out. It didn't hit me until Michigan came after him. When Lloyd Carr said, 'with his grades and how he performs on that field, I'm willing to roll out the red carpet out for this young man. I'm ready for him.' My mouth was open! I was like, 'ok Mr. Carr, whatever you say.' "
Since Graham's pledge to the Wolverines back in February, some have speculated that 6-2, 250-pounder's commitment status may not be firm because of past mention of taking other visits. According to his parents, any such talk is misguided. "He's going to U of M" Walton said. "No doubt! All of that soft verbal stuff…throw that out of the window! U of M baby! WOOOOOO! I've been a wolverine fan all of my life. My family…his family…we're all Wolverine fans. All we were waiting on was for Michigan to give us an offer. We weren't waiting on anybody else. We were waiting for Lloyd to say we want you! A'int nothing soft about his verbal!"
Ms. Graham is sold on the Maize and Blue as well. Another school surfacing as her son's college destination just isn't in the cards. "There are a couple things that make Michigan IT," she explained. "His whole family is in Michigan. It's the #1 school for education and football. He is the #1 kid in the state. I told him #1 and #1 go hand and hand. He said, 'you're right momma. There's no need for me to go to Penn State, or USC, or Miami. There's no other choice.'"
Brandon was not surprised by his parents' comments. They said what he has been saying all along. His college days will be spent in Ann Arbor. "I feel the same way they do." Brandon said. "We talked about it, and that's it. It's Michigan!"
With college still a ways off, Graham's focus is primarily on his high school team. The Rockets are currently 6-0 despite having to battle through a number of injuries, including one to Graham. "The rest of the team picked up the slack and they carried him," Crockett Coach Rod Oden said. "They all stepped it up and got the job done. We had young guys out there playing linebacker and other key positions due to injury. Right now we're probably as healthy as we've been all season. We're finally starting to get it together. We're rolling right near playoff time. Brandon fought back off some injuries from earlier in the season and he is finally playing ball the way he is used to right now."
In Graham's limited action this year, Oden has noticed a great deal of improvement in his star linebacker's play. "He is more cerebral in terms of his knowledge of the game than he was last year," Oden said. "He is aware of down and distance and situations on the football. He is making on-field adjustments. He is more of a coach on the field than he was last year. Right now he needs to improve his conditioning because he missed four games. He is not in the best shape, so he is doing a lot of running before and after practice."
Now that he is back into the swing of things, Graham hopes to take his team on a championship run. "I need to get this knee ready for states because they try to take my knees out," he said. "I'm going to get my team ready. We are going to do it this year!"