Graham has shown leadership for young offensive line

By BOBBY "BUTCH" BURNEY | News-Telegram Sports Editor

Nov. 7, 2007 - Sulphur Springs coaches knew the offensive skill positions would be in good hands this season. What they weren't sure about was how a whole new, and previously untested, offensive line would perform.

On Friday, they got the answer they were looking for.

The offensive line had its best game of the season against Texas High, going against the most athletic defense they have faced this year.

The starting O-line is composed of three sophomores, one junior and one senior, Dakota Graham, who worked his way into the starting left guard position for one of the most explosive offenses in Wildcat history.

Graham lettered last year on varsity, but didn't start, and coaches weren't sure how he would fit into the scheme this season. He just kept on meeting every challenge they would throw at him, said offensive coordinator Jeff Riordan.

"He was a kid who didn't get to play much as a junior and pretty much worked his way into that spot," Riordan said. "He kept fighting off people battling for that position.

"Coming into the season, we knew we'd be starting a bunch of young kids. He's fought everybody off. He's a positive kid and a great leader."

Riordan and offensive line coach David Carrillo both said it was Graham's hard work in the offseason that has enabled him to excel this fall.

"He's a hard worker. I don't think he ever missed a day after school in the spring or the summer," Riordan said. "He's another one of those guys that put in the work, and he's reaping the advantages of it right now."

Graham's also the most experienced linemen, and his knowledge of the game is an attribute that his coaches and teammates rely on.

"I think Dakota's a great leader. He does all the little extra things that you would want a leader to do, and I think that's a strength of his," Carrillo said. "He's met every challenge we've put up to him. We were very uncertain about our line and the leadership we were going to have, and he's brought that to the table. Dakota's knowledge of the game is really good, and that makes it a whole lot easier for everybody."

Graham said he worked last summer to improve his strength and speed because at 5-11, 225 pounds, he's undersized to be in the middle of the offensive line.

"I came to every workout in the summer to show the coaches that I wanted it," Graham related. "I needed to get stronger, faster, bigger, and that was a goal of mine."

He also understands the expectations of being the only senior in the mix.

"I lead them when I have to, and let them figure it out when they need to," he explained.

The group figured it on Friday. They have been solid all year, but against a fast, physical Texas High team, they allowed just two sacks and opened the way for a 28-24 victory.

The five starters had never played together before this season, so they are now getting to the point of playing more as one unit.

"Their cohesiveness is getting better, and I think last week against T-High was the best game of the year," Riordan said. "That's a direction reflection of leadership, and Dakota's the leader of that line."

They were so good that instead of selecting one member as the Linemen of the Week, the coaches gave the entire unit the award. Other members are Jake Russell, Colby Suggs, Alex Peek, Mason Y'Barbo and Beau Carpenter.

"We just came together so well on Friday," said Graham, the son of Jennifer and Greg Graham. "We jelled, and it was awesome. We're getting more comfortable playing together. When you get used to having a guy next to you, you get used to compensating for each other faults and relying on their strengths."

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