On a beautiful spring afternoon, as the greyhounds line up for the 200-meter dash at a Greater Spokane League track meet, Garret Graham strides to the starting line.
Most competitors are stunned. It hits spectators as the runners round the curve and head for home with Graham among the leaders.
The sight is quite shocking because Graham stands 6-foot-4 and is a chiseled 215 pounds.
The Central Valley senior is just as imposing on the football field, whether he is at middle linebacker or fullback.
“He has the athletic tools,” CV coach Rick Giampietri said. “He has the size to put on more weight, he runs to the football and he likes to hit. He plays very intense and he’s pretty ornery when he plays.”
Graham’s sprinter’s speed and shot-putter’s strength put him on the A list of college football recruiters.
Oregon has suggested he could be an inside linebacker. Arizona State projects him as a tight end. Washington State sees him growing into a defensive end. Washington said he could be a linebacker, or a defensive end, or a tight end, or an H-back.
Graham’s only thought, however, is playing football next weekend, which only happens if Central Valley wins a playoff game Saturday. The sixth-ranked Bears (10-1) face No. 10 Kamiakin (9-2), the team that eliminated them from the playoffs the last two years, at 1 p.m. at Lampson Stadium in Kennewick.
“I’ve dreamed of this all my high school career,” Graham said. “Where we’re at is perfect.”
He’s not concerned with the next weekend, or next season since he already has one solid offer.
“That’s always in the back of your mind, but we always stay focused,” he said. “We knew we might have to play Gonzaga Prep or Kamiakin, but we stayed focused on Pasco (last Saturday’s playoff victim). We’re just picking it up. We’ve been a lot more focused these last few weeks, we’ve had a lot harder practices. In the playoffs, every team is tough, they’re champions. We have to realize that.”
The wake-up call came in the eighth week of the season when Gonzaga Prep shredded the Bears’ defense and stuffed the offense in a 24-14 victory that made the teams GSL co-champions but gave the Bullpups the top seed. The loss probably cost several Bears postseason awards.
“We were pretty mad, pretty upset,” Graham said. “We wanted to get back in it, prove to the state we were something… . Hopefully, now they know we’re the real thing.”
The Bears began to realize they were special when nine of them went to a scouting combine on the West Side early in the summer.
Various CV players placed high in different categories while most schools only had a couple representatives. Then the Bears went to the team camp at Eastern Washington University and continued to turn heads.
“(This summer is when) people knew we were going to be something this year,” said Graham, a 3-point student interested in sports medicine. “A lot of big guys are strong but not fast and a lot of fast guys aren’t that strong and I was both. I was getting all this attention.”
The calls haven’t quit coming from recruiters, justifying an earlier decision Graham made to attend Central Valley even though his junior high, Horizon, is considered a feeder for University.
“I wanted to play football and I guess I just knew I’d have better coaching and I’d be better off here,” he said. “I figured that after three years I’d be a better football player here than at U-Hi.
“It was hard, it was just a decision I had to make. It was the right one. I went to the U-Hi camp after seventh and eighth grade, I was planning to go there but after the first quarter of my ninth-grade year, I kind of knew I was going to CV.”
He still considers many Titans friends and said despite the intense rivalry, the games are among the cleanest he has played in.
Graham’s preference is defense, though he is a good runner with good hands for receiving and has developed into a devastating lead blocker.
CV tailback Tyree Clowe has scored 31 touchdowns while rushing for more than 1,700 yards, many with the aid of Graham’s blocks.
“I like hitting people,” Graham said. “It’s fun getting the glory of running back, but I love being known as a defensive player. I’m getting into blocking now. Tyree, oh, yeah. It’s good to see the films and know I made that happen.”
Just another case of turning heads.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo