Gallagher column: Resilience paid off for West Rowan's Graham

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 10, 2008

No one would’ve even noticed if Brett Graham had never gotten in on one play for the West Rowan Falcons. And no one would’ve blamed him if he had walked away from football.
As a freshman, Graham blew out his knee and didn’t play. As a sophomore, he blew out the same knee again.
But West coach Scott Young and his staff didn’t turn their back on the kid when he returned for his junior season.
“He wouldn’t let us,” Young said. “He kept fighting.”
On Saturday, Graham will start at defensive end in the final game of his senior season on those once-battered knees at BB&T Field in Winston-Salem. If he walks off with a championship ring, it will be, without a doubt, West’s most inspirational story of the 2008 season.

Doctors decided against surgery when Graham tore the ACL as a freshman. He rehabilitated the knee and came out as a sophomore.
In the preseason Blue-White scrimmage, he injured the same knee again.
The average 10th grader would’ve walked away … you know, said the heck with it.
Not Graham, he of the 4.25 GPA. He wanted to excel on the field just like in the classroom. So he discussed his football future with the doctor.
“He told me I could play but my performance probably wouldn’t be as good,” Graham said.
Undaunted, he returned to the field as a junior. Since then, David Hunt has helped transform him into a quality rush end on one of the state’s best defensive fronts.
“When you get right down to it, Brett’s a sophomore in a senior’s body,” defensive coordinator Hunt noted. “He’s a smart kid. As a junior, he knew what to do, at least on paper.”

Now, as a senior, he knows what to do on the field. In a 35-7 Western final win over South Point, he proved it with a shattering blow to the Red Raiders’ hopes.
“One of the turning points of the South Point game is a play where Brett’s not even involved in the tackle,” Hunt said.
In the first quarter, quarterback Desmond Lowery had already handed the ball to fullback Aaron Crumbley but found Graham smashing him to the ground.
“He laid a lick on that quarterback and he came down on his shoulder,” Hunt said. From that point on, he didn’t throw the ball anywhere near what he showed on film. I think the shoulder was bothering him.”
Graham said he was just doing his job.
“(Lowery) acted like he had the ball,” Graham said. “We were told if he acted like he had the ball, to hit him like he had it.”
That play on Lowery summed up the season for Graham.
“It was one of the key plays of the game and the average person will never know that,” Hunt said. “He didn’t get credit for a tackle. He didn’t get credit for anything.”

Graham does get credit for winning an unofficial Jim Valvano award. The 5-foot-11, 190-pounder never gave up after the knee problems early in his career.
While Chris Smith, Kenderick Dunlap and Eli Goodson get the headlines, Graham keeps plugging along.
“It doesn’t matter to me if they get all the publicity,” Graham shrugged. “As long as we keep winning.”
Hunt said Graham would be the perfect offensive lineman.
“I used to say the offensive line was the best place to coach because you have no egos,” Hunt said. “They’re out for the team. Brett would’ve been a great offensive lineman with his mindset.”
Instead, No. 44 is a starting rush end on a 14-1 team vying for a state championship. The heavy brace is gone. And that first knee injury as a freshman seems like a century ago.
“It’s crazy,” Graham smiled, thinking about how far he has come. “I can’t believe it.”
His head coach can.
“I love Brett Graham,” Young said. “You can win ballgames with a lot of Brett Grahams.”
West already has. Now Young wants his unheralded senior to win at least one more.

Contact Ronnie Gallagher at 704-797-4287 or