'A product of what I'm selling'

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It is hard to think of a running backs coach who was in a better situation than Jay Graham at South Carolina, but even with former National Freshman of the Year Marcus Lattimore under his wing all it took was a phone call to lure Graham back to his alma mater.

"It was tough because I enjoyed my years at South Carolina, but it was easy in the way that (Tennessee) is the place where I played and it is a part of who I am," he said. "This is also the place I came back to when I cut my teeth as a graduate assistant coach. Tennessee was always the place I saw myself coaching."

As a player for Tennessee, Graham rushed for 2,609 yards as a Vol from 1993-96 and ranks seventh all-time on the Vols' career rushing chart. His most prolific season was in 1995, when he rushed for 1,438 yards on 272 carries, the second-highest rushing total in a season in UT history and the third-most attempts by a Vol running back in one year.

A third-round pick of the Baltimore Ravens in 1997, Graham spent six seasons in the NFL, including four with the Ravens (1997-2000) and single seasons with the Seattle Seahawks (2001) and Green Bay Packers (2002).

In 2004, Graham returned to Knoxville and graduated with a degree in psychology. He also served the 2005 season as a graduate assistant on the Vols staff and completed his master's degree in sports management from UT in 2008. In addition to stints at South Carolina and his graduate assistant season at Tennessee, Graham has also served as an assistant coach at Miami, Ohio (2008), UT-Martin (2007), the University of San Diego (2007), and UT Chattanooga (2006).

Now, as a recruiter, it is Graham's playing experience that is his biggest weapon in the homes of prospective young athletes.

"When I am sitting on a young man's couch I am a product of what I am selling," Graham said. "I think that's very important. For his parents to see that if you play well and can get to the NFL it is possible. Some of these young men might want to go off and coach too. I am able to talk about all of those things. I think that parents are able to see that this is what they want for their young man to end up doing.

"I think a lot of the running backs I've recruited can identify with me. I played in the NFL. I played in the SEC. I think a lot of the guys want to identify with that."

Graham now walks into a running backs group in which there is no clear starter and has never had a full-time coach at their disposal. In fact, Graham takes over a group consisting of five scholarship tailbacks, Marlin Lane Jr., Devrin Young, Rajion Neal, Tom Smith and Alden Hill, who have less than 200 college rushing attempts (167) between them.

"I think because I've walked in their shoes, I've done some of the things that they do, I think they can identify with me and understand it," Graham said. "Certainly, you have to know how to coach them and I think that validates it, but because you've been in their shoes and played at different levels, when they come off the sideline you can really identify with them during a game or at practice."

While Tennessee may have struggled to find a dynamic runner, it could be Graham that brings out the best in Derek Dooley's current roster because he knows what it takes to succeed in the Southeastern Conference.

"You've got to have dynamic skill level," he said. "That is very important when you play in the SEC. Some of the defenses we play can be in the top five and you have to have a mental toughness and the ability to break tackles. I always look for young men that have the ability to adapt. When you get to college you have to adapt to this level right away."

Graham's name may be recognized by masses of Tennessee Volunteers fans around the country, but Dooley's new running backs coach is trying to educate his players of his resume.

"We've only had a couple of meetings because when I came in all the guys were out for Christmas break," he said. "One of the guys pointed into the corner of the room, and I guess my picture was up, and asked, `was that you?' They are starting to figure out who I am."


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