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When observing those blessed with natural gifts, we often notice that the individuals that possess them become stagnant when first faced with a viable challenge. Whether it's a young math prodigy calculating circles around his contemporaries, or a prep football star dominating on the field of play, their God Given talents are generally enough to keep them head and shoulders above their peers for a long period of time. In many cases, however, those young phenoms eventually reach a level where what comes naturally just isn't enough to keep the chasm of achievement wide anymore. At that point, how hard said individual is willing to work determines whether or not he or she maintains such a stated advantage. For Michigan sophomore defensive end Brandon Graham, that point came early in his freshman campaign. After a stellar high school career at Detroit Crockett, where he wreaked havoc as a defensive end and middle linebacker, Graham anticipated a similar display of dominance at Michigan. At the time, he felt the only hindrance to success was learning the ropes. Because of that, he sought the advice the upperclassmen in the program… picking their brains in hopes of easing his transition into college. One senior gave him just the guidance he was looking for.
"I came in during the summer time and talked to Rondell Biggs," Graham recalled. "He brought me into his house, and I lived with him the whole summer. He showed the ropes on how to do stuff…what to do what not to do, what the coach likes, what he doesn't. He told me that I was going to have to get the coach's trust before I got out there on the field."
Unfortunately for Graham, he started off his first fall camp in a manner that his coach probably didn't approve of. When he arrived on campus overweight it was determined that a position switch, (from linebacker to defensive end,) was in order. Michigan headman Lloyd Carr explained the move when he addressed the media prior to the start of last season.
"Brandon Graham… I don't want to give his weight out, but we thought that it was a very good possibility when he started, he might conceivably end up as a defensive end… and that is what he is right now," Carr said. "But he's simply a big guy and he's a tremendous athlete. I think he very conceivably could play this fall."
Graham did end up playing, but not quite as much as he initially anticipated. For the record, though, he blames no one but himself.
"It wasn't really disappointing," said Graham. "That's because I know that was on me, man. I came in at 295, and that was my fault. I should've been working harder than that. I just had lost that hunger."
Despite not being in tip top condition, Graham managed to work his way onto the field and saw time in 11 games. While it was not reflected in his stats (three tackles, one sack, and one forced fumble), he became more and more of a presence up front as the season progressed. Even so, he felt he was capable of more. With the fire in his belly ignited again, he went about the task was removing the leftover baggage from his offseason of excess. To help reach that desired goal, he enlisted help from men that had performed such duties many times before; Michigan strength & conditioning coaches Mike Gittleson and Kevin Tolbert. Gittleson's workout routines are legendary for how challenging they are and he has a reputation for pushing youngsters to their limits to help them reach their physical peaks. In Graham's case, however, not much prodding was necessary.
"(Gittleson) laughed and was like since you don't want this weight on you, it's my job to get it up off you and get you in the best shape you can be in," Graham recalled. "I went to work and got it done. I wanted it bad and they helped me get to where I wanted to be. That's why right now I want to thank Mike and Kev for getting me right and keeping me focused."
The Michigan coaches definitely took notice of Graham's rapid improvement. Both his athleticism and attitude are among the best in the program, and that has them anxiously anticipating what could be a breakout year.
"He’s about 275-pounds and can do a back flip and still land on his feet," said Michigan defensive line coach Steve Stripling. "He has tremendous athletic ability and great explosion. He’s got a great personality and comes to the building with a big smile on his face. He’s fun to be around and fun to coach. There was a positional change for him so there was a period of transition, but we are definitely excited for him."
“Brandon Graham is a terrific talent," added Michigan defensive coordinator Ron English. "He’s got to be consistent, but he’s certainly a legitimate player. Since I’ve been here, he’s as good from a talent standpoint as anybody we’ve had.”
For the rest of the defensive preview, which includes features
on Ron English, the unit's new leaders ,
the facilities upgrades, and more, check out the next issue of GoBlueWolverine
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