“Soccer was fun,” he said. “I miss it. But football took over.”
Yes, the great American game has taken over Jamoral Graham’s life and future. Just don’t under-estimate how kicking the rounder ball around has given him a leg up on college football. Or for that matter Graham’s background as a high school track star, too.
All his sports, as well as his variety of college positions, have brought him to this 2016 point of taking a starting cornerback job at Mississippi State. So has Graham’s own attitude.
“Confidence-wise, I’m up here. I ain’t too much worried. I’m just trying to stay over the gameplan, keep my plays top-notch, stay in the film room. And hopefully I’ll be alright.”
He’d better be alright right now. Though he was already in contention to at least alternate at one corner, Graham finds himself promoted to first team for opening week. The injury losses of Tolando Cleveland and Cedric Jiles made picking starters against South Alabama easier, if not happier.
“Yeah, man, I’ve got to be on alert,” Graham said of making that first start. At, his third Bulldog position. Remember that Graham was activated as a true freshman kick returner in 2014 and worked into the receiver rotation as well.
For the sophomore season he was switched from running routes to covering them. Graham got enough snaps last fall to collect 21 tackles, too. Starting is a completely different deal.
“Yeah, man it’s been a journey. I’m just learning. I’m still learning from Ced and Tolando, they’re still in my ear. And Coach (Terrell) Buckley, a big-time guy. Coach Mo (Maurice Linguist), Brandon Bryant, Kivon (Coman), all them boys staying with me. I’m trying to stay focused, trying to stay prepared. And I’m just going to keep grinding.”
Going on the defensive was a good move not just for Graham’s talents. But working up that depth chart was going to be faster, too, and that’s before injuries.
“I’ve got good speed. I’ve got good hand skills, good eye coordination. I try not to look into the backfield too much. I just try to stay in front of my receiver and make sure I don’t get beat deep.” That’s also where his old offensive experience comes in handy. Who better knows how to beat or beat-up receivers than a former wideout, eh?
All that said, Graham admits it stung the pride not succeeding immediately at receiver.
“But you know, I’m an athlete, I’m a Dog, I’m a savage I feel like in my heart. And I’m going to stay focused, keep my mind on my money and hopefully just ball-out.”
At this version of foot-ball, he means. When Graham talks of missing soccer he’s serious, just as when he credits the speckled ball for making him better athletically all-around.
“It kind of helped with my foot skills, you know what I mean? Speed, trying to keep up, keep my wind good, helping my lungs out. And it’s been a journey. I’m just a skillful-type person, and I’m just blessed, man. It feels good.”
At least it does until that inevitable coverage breakdown, when that ‘island’ gets awfully lonely. The word on Graham’s preseason sounds a lot like spring: big-play potential in coverage and issues with routine-play consistency. Graham confirms it.
“Yeah, Coach Mullen stays on me every day, Coach Buck stays on me every day about being consistent. Lando, Ced, Lashard Durr. Even the young corners are trying to keep me right every day.” Ultimately though it is Graham’s own confidence that will carry him through the rough spots.
And “Coach trusts me, so I feel like it’ll be OK. They’ll say go on to the next play, you can’t look back.”
Or look back at the other football for that matter. It isn’t easy letting soccer go.
“I miss playing it, I’m not going to lie to you. I really miss it.”