'06 Unwrapped: Tyrone McGraw

You have asked for the story for months, and finally in the last 24 hours we were able to speak with both Tyrone McGraw and his head coach at Archbishop Riordan High School. The undersized San Francisco (Calif.) running back had a record-setting year, against tall odds, and now he is running toward a college future with an elite education... But on which coast?

He is a kid you have undoubtedly read about in the local papers, with blazing speed, a big GPA and a bigger heart.  He is one of two scholar-athletes for San Francisco County honored by the National Football Foundation/College Hall of Fame this year.  One of the nicest kids I have ever come across in this business, Tyrone McGraw has all the trappings of a poster boy All-American with the exception of one detail: his size.  The San Francisco (Calif.) Archbishop Riordan High School running back presents dynamic speed and athleticism... in a 5'8.5" package.

"When people look at me, it's not about the numbers.  It has to do with my size," McGraw says.

The diminutive dynamo played against stacked odds this year, operating behind a poor offensive line on a 2-8 football team in the West Catholic Athletic League - the toughest conference in the area.  Riordan last won one league game in 2001, and none since, coming into this year.

"We hadn't won a league game in two or three years, and the WCAL is a tough league," McGraw describes.  "I was a captain this year, and I set high goals for myself and for the team.  I wanted us to win a league game.  I wanted us to make it to the playoffs.  We had talent on our team, but we just made too many mistakes."

The 2005 season started with disappointment that would be often repeated.  The Crusaders dropped a 27-26 opener against Sacred Heart.  McGraw racked up 259 rushing yards and three touchdowns but was smarting at the final score.

"That was a heartbreaker.  It was a real letdown," the senior says.  "Coach showed us at the end of the game how we won every category except the one that counted.  I had over 200 yards rushing and three touchdowns, but it wasn't enough.  That seemed to be the trend throughout the season."

Riordan completed a third straight season with an 0-6 record in the WCAL, squashing the two team goals McGraw had set forth.

"The playoffs or to win a league game would have brought me the most happiness, but I did have a pretty good season," he offers.  "We didn't have real success as a team, but in a way, we did.  I set the Riordan all-time single-season rushing record.  To get that record, we all had to do it.  The offensive line had to block.  The quarterback had to block.  Coach told us that when we look back, we can all remember that we were all part of that record."

As losses mounted, the team rallied around McGraw and the chase for the record.  Using different statistical measures, there were two different rushing totals that claimed the school's single-season rushing record at 1,400-plus yards.  McGraw's 198 yards in the 10th and final game of the year against Bellarmine Prep put to rest any further confusion, as he reached 1,519 yards for the season.

"This year was different.  In the past, we were kind of down as a team," McGraw explains.  "This year we really had a good experience together.  I had a good time this year.  Football was fun."

"We had a real poor offensive line this year - mediocre at best," laments Riordan head coach Frank Oross.  "We didn't have the big, tough kids like you need to block.  All that he did this year was all Tyrone.  I can't wait to see what he can do in an environment where he has people who can block something for him."

"If we had St. Francis' offensive line, he would have run for 3,000 yards this year," Oross adds.

McGraw's 2005 numbers impress, especially setting a new record at a school that has produced NFL running backs like Derek Loville, Donald Strickland and Steve Sewell.  But he earned his greatest acclaim last spring on the track, where he won the 200m in the CIF Central Coast Section Championships and took second in the 100m by one-hundredth of a second.  McGraw last year ran electronic personal bests of 10.79 in the 100m and 21.85 in the 200m.

"This year Tyrone is going to run 10.5 or better," Oross declares.  "I've coached football a long time and seen the best there is, and I have never seen a burst like he has.  And the ability to cut back.  Tyrone was originally a soccer player, so he has such good feet."

"But the thing that I think has really improved for Tyrone is his toughness," the coach continues.  "In the WCAL, they bring it physically.  I challenged Tyrone to be tougher, and this year he found that he could take hits and get back up and keep playing.  Watching that grow and mature in him has been a real joy."

You have read nothing about the Tyrone McGraw story at Scout.com or any other recruiting service, however, because of more than just the San Francisan's small stature.  He received recruiting interest from a breadth of schools including Kansas State, Idaho, Utah, Army, Air Force, Fresno State, UCLA and California.  Who among them might have moved on to an offer we will never know because McGraw made the tough decision to pass on most Division I athletic options.

"It's just the way I was raised by my mother and godfather.  I want to go to an academic powerhouse, so I ruled out the state schools," McGraw maintains.  "I'm more career oriented.  I try to look at the big picture.  I didn't want to go to a public university.  I wanted to go to a small school to get a top education.  For me, it was going to be Stanford or the Ivies."

McGraw holds an unweighted 3.9 average at his school (4.1 weighted) and has scored a combined 1240 on the math and verbal components of the SAT.

The Riordan student-athlete took his first three official visits to Brown (11/19), Princeton (12/9) and Harvard (1/6).  McGraw was locked on a decision for the Yale Bulldogs, until Tim Murphy and the Crimson of Harvard blew him away at the beginning of this month.  Murphy asked for a verbal commitment within a week of his visit, and McGraw obliged immediately that Monday.  He then canceled his scheduled trips to Yale for football and Notre Dame for track.

But that is not the end of this story.

"Even though I am verbally committed to an Ivy school, I still can sign an athletic scholarship with a Letter of Intent," McGraw notes.  "Coach Murphy understands the scholarship situation that Stanford could offer, and he told me that he would absolve me of my commitment if they offer.  Coach Tipton at Stanford actually blessed my committing to Harvard.  He wanted me to protect myself in case Stanford cannot come up with an offer."

Defensive line coach Dave Tipton is the area recruiter locally for Stanford in the Bay Area and has been engaged with McGraw since his junior year.

"Coach Tipton is a great guy.  He's a cool guy," the recruit relates.  "We talk on a weekly basis.  And I visited Stanford unofficially that weekend late in November for the Notre Dame.  It was a great visit.  I got to meet with Coach [Walt] Harris, which was really good."

"Stanford is still deciding what to do with me.  They have not yet made a scholarship offer.  Coach Tipton has told me that it could come down to the wire, which is fine to me.  I'm still a candidate for a scholarship," McGraw says.  "I know it's Division I football, and they have to look at size.  I totally understand.  But it's really cool that they are excited and interested in me.  What I love about Stanford is that they like me not only as a football player, but also how they feel about me as a person and how I would be as a person in the Stanford community."

As you learn about the Tyrone McGraw story, you are enveloped by his warmth and his heart, while you are fascinated by his speed.  The Stanford coaches have a question they have been asking themselves - whether to take a flyer on somebody so small yet so fast.  But as we draw ever closer to February 1, the bigger issue is the numbers game.  The Cardinal have already corralled their top running back target in this class, landing California Mr. Football Toby Gerhart.  They do not have a large class they can offer and have already filled 14 of their scholarships, with more likely to be claimed in the coming week.

Only on or near Signing Day could we know if Stanford has one spot still available to give.  Somebody or something very distant from McGraw may ultimately decide his fate.  A similar story 11 years ago came "down to the wire," and ultimately the Cardinal gave their last scholarship to 5'8" Troy Walters.  He was a leading force that brought Stanford to their first Rose Bowl in three decades by the time he finished on The Farm, while also winning the school's first and only Belitnikoff Award.  Other Signing Day scholarship decisions have flopped.  Which way McGraw's story could conclude in a Cardinal career is anybody's guess.

For now, the humble-hearted San Francisco standout is smiling at the mere consideration of a Stanford scholarship opportunity.  He is officially visiting The Farm this weekend, a dream by itself.  Whether the chips fall his way or not, McGraw will have his college education at Stanford or Harvard.  That makes him a winner, no matter where his name shows up on Signing Day.

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