New Eagles defensive end Brandon Graham hasn't stopped smiling.
He said that it's not likely to stop once he gets on the football field, either.
"I'll hit somebody and smile right over them and let them know I'm coming back the next play," said Graham at his introductory press conference Friday at the NovaCare Complex. "I like to hit people. Sometimes you might be having a bad day, but when you're at practice and you hit somebody it's like a stress reliever."
But if it wasn't for an obscure rule, Graham might never have become the pass-rush force that allowed him to finish with 29.5 sacks, which is second all-time in Michigan's illustrious history.
After wrapping up his high school career at Crockett Vocational in Detroit, he was invited to play in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl in San Antonio. The problem is that after he returned, he learned of a rule that said Michigan high school athletes aren't allowed to play in all-star games out of the state. Graham said that he was the first Michigan high school football player to ever earn such an honor so no one informed him of the rule. Graham was not allowed to play sports in the spring season.
So, he ate.
And ate some more. He reported to the Ann Arbor campus for his freshman year at 300 pounds, 40 pounds overweight. Recruited as a linebacker, Graham was moved to defensive end. He started to chip away at the weight and it was his first-career start when he saw what getting in shape could do. He had 3.5 sacks against Notre Dame during his sophomore year of 2007.
"That really let me know that if I got lighter I would really be able to do damage," Graham said.
Graham got down to 260 and was utilized as a weapon all over the defensive line. He said that with three different coordinators he experienced a variety of schemes. And with the possibility of playing linebacker in the NFL, Graham worked on honing his ability to drop back in coverage.
Seems like an ideal candidate for the Eagles' JOKER linebacker (stand-up defensive end) role, right? Graham said he wants to be a coachable kid so that he can help this team as soon as possible.
"I always just wanted to be that one who was going to be around the ball, always the big-hit guy, somebody you could always expect whose going to bring the boom to somebody," Graham said. "I try to be that leader out there and let everybody know I'm fighting for you and I want you to fight for me."
Head coach Andy Reid gushed on Thursday night after about Graham's ability to play with a relentless, non-stop motor on the field. Graham explained where that came from.
"It comes from fighting for a cause bigger than me," he said. "I know when we go out there on the field you have to be relentless because you're working for a cause and you're trying to win a championship. You have a lot of goals and you're trying to accomplish something. That's why I go out there (and play) relentless."
Graham came to Philadelphia hoping to meet two of the team's most well-known players - Michael Vick and Donovan McNabb. Graham and Vick share the same agent, Joel Segal. As for McNabb?
"Now, I have to go against him. Bring him down," Graham said about the Redskins quarterback.
Graham learned early what it's like to be on the opposite side of a big hit. In fact, it almost kept him from playing football as a youth. When he was 7, his little league coach lined him up as a running back against a 10-year-old who was the biggest kid on the team. Needless to say, Graham was steamrolled. He suffered a stinger and a lack of confidence. Graham's father, Darrick Walton, was not going to let him quit.
"I wouldn't be playing this game of football if it wasn't for my dad bringing me back out there," Graham said.
Now, he'll be playing on the biggest stage in front of a passionate fan base in Philadelphia.
-- Posted by Chris McPherson, 5:05 p.m., April 23