On Thanksgiving, Brandon Graham will play in front of his hometown crowd as the Eagles take on the Lions in Detroit. Take a look at the linebacker's childhood growing up in the city and his recent trip back to visit ...
Brandon Graham certainly hasn't had an easy path to the NFL. Even his journey as an Eagle has been filled with ups and downs. But, beating the odds and emerging on top is something the linebacker has done his entire life, beginning with his upbringing in Detroit.
"For me growing up, my neighborhood was pretty rough," Graham explained. "There were a lot of kids in my neighborhood so there were a lot of different things I could have gotten into, but the majority of the kids there played sports. That kind of helped me out. My grandma (Linda Graham) lived next to an open lot. There used to be a house there, but they knocked it down. It became a lot that she ended up buying.
"We used to play football in that lot. Most of the time my grandma bought us Slip'N Slides. She bought us rims to play basketball. We had so much stuff to do that we pretty much didn't have to leave the house or go too far. Everyone would come to us, so that pretty much saved me from being too far away from where my mom and them couldn't keep an eye out on me and my sisters."
For Graham, sports were key to staying safe in a city that had the potential to drag him down. His journey with football began when he was 7 years old; however, it wasn't the immediate fit some would imagine. He quit during his first season, only to decide the following year to try again.
From there, things began to fall into place. After settling in as a middle linebacker during his youth football days, his mentality began to shift. Football could be the answer for him. He had the skill to go far. He just needed the determination.
Once in high school, Graham truly began to understand the consequences of his decisions. He continued playing hard on the field, joined chess and did whatever he could to keep himself out of trouble, stay the course and achieve success.
"It was one long trailer," Graham said of Crocket Vocational Tech. "We had rooms on both sides and no gym, no nothing. We had to go to a middle school just to go to gym. We played our games at a middle school. At the time we just worked with what we had and that was the best part. We weren't given anything.
"I kind of always had an attitude as far as you are not given anything. You just adjust to what the situation is. It helped me with my personality, just persevering through and not really worrying about what I can't control. If this is what we've got, then I'm going to work with what we've got."
Clearly, Graham made due with what little he had. He went to the University of Michigan, became a dominant defensive end and performed well enough to be selected by Philadelphia with the 13th overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft.
However, even joining the Eagles proved to be another tough journey. Once again, he had to earn everything, including every second he would play on the field.
In his rookie season, Graham appeared in 13 games. It wasn't an overwhelming positive or negative start to his NFL career, but a torn ACL in December of 2010 meant a pause in his growth. He increased his production on the field once he came back from the injury in 2012, but even then, his numbers were shy of what was expected from such a high-status pick.
Fast forward a year and Graham's career was altered yet again. He didn't know it at the time, but changing to outside linebacker would ultimately advance his career. After another season of struggling to be an impact player for the Eagles, Graham's big breakout came.
In 2014, his second year at linebacker, Graham put up the stats people expected. He notched 5.5 sacks, 13.5 tackles for loss and 18 quarterback hurries. He also recorded a career-high four forced fumbles and was rewarded for his play with a four-year contract.
Now a full-time starter for the first time in his career, Graham is able to enjoy his spot on this Eagles' defense, a team he will be part of for the long haul.
"I appreciate it so much more because when I first got here, yeah I went in the top and I'm going to start by default because they selected me in the first round," Graham said. "But for me, I went through an injury. I had to come from the threes (third team on the depth chart) all the way up to now ones. That was a long, hard journey.
"For me, I appreciate it that much more because I know what it's like to get dismissed real quick. I thought I wasn't going to be here a couple years ago just because new coach, my season wasn't going as good, new scheme, all kinds of different things. But for me, I knew football was going to be football and once (Chip Kelly) saw that I could play, I was going to be all right. I just stayed with it."
Throughout it all, Graham had his family by his side. He had his mom, Tasha, his grandma and his wife, Carlyne, to turn to when things were rocky.
In the end, the linebacker remained positive, kept his gregarious personality and continued to grind. He'd been powering through and exceeding expectations all his life. He knew he could do it again.
"I just had a core group of people I could call and vent to," the linebacker explained. "Once I kind of got past that stage where it is what it is, I was hurt. I'm not worried about that stuff. What else can they say? Let me get back and when I come back, I'm going to make sure they eat those words. That was my motivation."
As a starter this season, Graham already has 4.5 sacks, one sack behind his 2014 total. He wants to continue to be a dependable player in Philadelphia for years to come.
When he takes the field on Thursday against the Lions in front of his hometown crowd for the second time in his NFL career, every hardship and every difficult time will have been worth the effort. With his friends and family watching on, Graham will have accomplished another one of his childhood dreams.
"It's already special because growing up all I used to do is watch the Lions on Thanksgiving play the Packers, most of the time that's usually who they play," Graham said. "I think it was just always nice because I said, 'One day, I'm going to play on Thanksgiving.' But, I thought I would be playing for the Lions. As a kid, you're thinking, 'I want to play for my hometown.' I knew they needed work, so I was like, 'I hope we've got a good team by the time I'm playing.'"
Although Graham's vision is a tad different than the reality now, he couldn't imagine a better way to celebrate the day. He'll be with his family, playing the game he loves and showing the city he came from just how determined he is to continue to achieve success.
What more could he be thankful for this Thanksgiving?