If Ty Graham got what he wanted, the Eastern Washington linebacker would have already exhausted his eligibility.
Serendipity offered an extension.
After starting games for three seasons at Idaho – including a nine-win true freshman campaign and a Famous Potato Bowl victory over Colorado State in 2016 – Graham wanted a change.
His subsequent sophomore and junior seasons saw Idaho go a combined 8-15, including a losing season in its 2018 drop-down return to the Big Sky Conference.
The former Cheney High star’s father, former EWU defensive coordinator John Graham, was briefly Idaho’s linebackers coach in that span before resigning.
When Graham had a career-high 12 tackles in 38-14 road loss at eventual national runner-up EWU in 2018, it came with a silver lining.
“I got to play the sport I love in my hometown and with the people I love,” Graham said.
Three months later, Graham, who totaled 132 tackles at Idaho, returned home.
Graham made the move to EWU and applied for immediate nongraduate transfer eligibility but was denied by the NCAA and redshirted in 2019.
The Eagles, who went 7-5 that season as injuries plagued the linebacker position, could have used his services.
“It wasn’t the original plan, I thought I would play immediately,” said Graham, over two years removed from his previous game. “But that redshirt year made me a lot better for my senior year. It made me a better student of the game, and I got to stick around the team longer than I thought I would.”
EWU will get Graham’s innate nose for the football on Saturday when he plays his first game in a red helmet. The Eagles open their rare coronavirus-delayed, six-game winter/spring season coincidentally against the team he left: Idaho.
Kickoff is slated for 1 p.m. at the Kibbie Dome, where Graham played his previous Big Sky Conference game against Montana two seasons ago.
After a six-month postponement and constant uncertainty, Graham, who has been elevated to team captain without playing a single in-game snap for the Eagles, is ready for an all-too-familiar foe: his old friends and teammates.
“It’s funny how it worked out this way,” Graham said. “They’re going to be physical. (Idaho tight end) Logan Kendall was also my high school teammate. Lloyd Hightower, who is now a grad assistant, was my roommate and one of my best friends.
“It was a tough decision to leave Idaho, but I’m thankful for my time there.”
Graham could only look on in street clothes as Idaho’s punishing run game was too much for EWU in 2019 at the Kibbie Dome, a 35-27 Vandals win.
Kendall, who looked up to Graham at Cheney High, was a starter that game.
Kendall hopes for a repeat, even if it means taking down the man who drove him to practice in high school.
“Ty plays hard,” Kendall said. “It will be fun to go against him, and I look forward to it a lot. He was like a big brother to me.”
Graham and Kendall both grew up around EWU football, where John Graham was EWU’s defensive coordinator for eight years, including when the Eagles won a national championship in 2010.
A family of football minds, Ty Graham’s older brother, Andrew, played at Montana Tech and Central Washington. Their grandfather, Dan Graham, was the head coach at Reardan for 11 years.
The younger Graham, who graduated last year and is studying for a master’s degree, is a bit of a coach himself.
“His mentality, approach to the game is very mature. Very coach-like,” EWU defensive coordinator Eti Ena said. “But he still has fun, still flies around.”
The winter/spring football season won’t count against eligibility, and Graham plans to return for a sixth year in the fall.
With a linebacker group that includes proven commodities Chris Ojoh and Jack Sendelbach, Graham is looking forward to this season and fall.
“I really like this group,” Graham said. “Very mature guys who want to get through the grind.”
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