Golden Graham

first_imgGarrett Graham led the Badgers in every receiving category last season.[/media-credit]On the surface, former Wisconsin star Travis Beckum and current starting tight end Garrett Graham appear to have less in common than Badger and Gopher fans during the battle for Paul Bunyan’s Axe.With both listed at 6-foot-3, Beckum weighs 11 pounds less than Graham, almost certainly runs a much quicker 40-yard dash and — it must be noted for comparison’s sake — is black to Graham’s white.On the field, Beckum often created big plays with his speed and athleticism, whereas Graham uses his superior size and positioning over defenders to keep the chains moving.When asked to compare themselves, even Graham and Beckum can’t find many similarities.“I wouldn’t compare Garrett to me, especially because at Wisconsin he was more of a blocker than I was,” Beckum said in a phone interview with the Herald. “Still, obviously you can see the talent that he has. Garrett is a great tight end, and I am sure that he is going to have a great year.”“Travis and I run some of the same routes, but Lance [Kendricks] has really kind of taken over what Travis did in our offense. Though we are both tight ends, he played the ‘H’ and I play the ‘Y,’” Graham said. “So, in a lot of ways, we aren’t the same.”Though all of the points listed above are valid, Beckum and Graham may not have considered the most important trait they share.Namely, when donning cardinal and white, both have the ability to take over games, and both have continued the long line of successful tight ends to come through UW.A Tradition of ExcellenceDating back to 1962-63 and two-time All-American tight end Pat Richter to the more recent line of Mark Anelli (drafted in the sixth round of the 2002 NFL Draft), Owen Daniels (currently the starting tight end for the Houston Texans) and Beckum (a third-round pick of the New York Giants), the success Graham has experienced at the tight end position is nothing new for Badger fans.How these tight ends come to be, however, is a different story.“I don’t know [where they come from],” UW tight ends coach Joe Rudolph said. “You are never sure exactly why, but I think Wisconsin has always been a place that allows people to develop and become really the best you can be. There is always a spot for those guys to get on the field and play. Garrett came in as a tight end, but with Travis, he came in as a linebacker and Owen came in as a quarterback and Lance came in as a wide receiver.”With the exception of Graham, the Badgers’ ability to develop tight ends from raw athletes comes down to one surprisingly simple virtue.“There is something maybe within the offensive system, but I think it’s the mentality within this program of getting your best players on the field and finding a way to do that,” Rudolph said. “If you can play, we will find a spot for you.”Quiet LeaderAlthough Graham was elected as a captain this season, named to the preseason All-Big Ten team and led the team in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns last year, getting him to talk about himself is more difficult than a dentist appointment for a 10-year-old.Thankfully, his teammates and coaches are more than willing to sing his praises.“I think the biggest thing with [Graham] is he is a very accountable person, a very accountable player and someone that we love having in our program,” Rudolph said. “He is someone that you can count on to be at the spot you need him to be, absolutely.”With 70 career receptions for 868 yards and nine touchdowns in the past two seasons, Graham doesn’t have to say much because his numbers speak for themselves. Whether it is junior Scott Tolzien under center or freshman Curt Phillips distributing the ball, the big tight end will often be the first person the quarterback looks to.“Yeah, for sure he acts like a security blanket,” Phillips said when asked about Graham’s value. “When you got guys that are that experienced like Travis was last year and Garrett is this year, they are guys you can trust to always win for you. Even if the coverage isn’t an ideal look for their route, they still find a way to get open. Especially when you have a big body like Garrett, he can post up for you and present a big target.”As with Beckum and Daniels before him, Graham’s ability to stretch the field — 13.5 yards per catch in 2008 — while holding his own with run blocking has opened up other opportunities for the offense.“I think when you have players that are athletic and can catch the ball, what it does is when you are in formations that are usually favorable to run the ball, teams will try to load the box,” Rudolph said. “This helps us create opportunities when running is very difficult, because if you can threaten them in the passing game with a blocking tight end, this helps keep the defense off balance.”Although both Beckum and Graham played vastly different tight end positions the last two years, Graham was still able to learn from what might be the most prolific tight end in Wisconsin history.“Just watching Beckum on film and how he runs certain routes, the way he breaks and recognizes certain defenses,” Graham said. “Everyone can pick up things there, he was so good at doing that.”Waiting in the WingsSo with Graham as a fifth-year senior, who is going to take his place next season?That would be junior Lance Kendricks.Expected to play prominently this year in the “H” tight end position, the Badgers hope Kendricks can do many of the same things Beckum did for three years. Although, as Rudolph points out, Graham’s and Kendricks’ positions are becoming increasingly muddled.“Really, though, with the pass receiving Garrett has and the blocking that Lance has — and then you throw Mickey [Turner] in there — they have much of the same responsibility and have kind of blurred,” Rudolph said. “So, I’m not even sure what is what anymore.”Much as Graham and Beckum did two seasons ago, combining for 105 catches and 1,310 yards, the coaching staff is hoping to get the same combined production from Graham and Kendricks. The way Kendricks explains it, that just might happen.“It’s pretty simple: When they double-team [Graham], I’m open and you can’t leave him alone,” Kendricks said. “He just goes out there and makes plays, and that gives me the drive to match him, make plays when I am tired.”While Graham has little to say on his legacy or statistical goals for the year, he does offer up a fairly succinct quote summing up his attitude towards football. While it may sound clich? coming from another athlete’s mouth, Graham makes it seem sincere.“It really doesn’t matter to me,” he said. “If Isaac Anderson leads us in receptions or Nick Toon or Lance Kendricks, it doesn’t matter as long as we win. That is my goal for the year.”last_img

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