Lineman looks to lead

Tyrell Graham almost ended up at Louisiana State University and played football at Arkansas for one year, but luckily for the Cougars, he found his way back to Houston in time for the 2008 season.

Although Graham was born in Houston, both his parents are from Louisiana. After graduating from Yates High School in 2005, Graham considered heading to Baton Rouge to suit up for LSU, but decided to play for the Razorbacks instead.

‘I would’ve gone to LSU, but I wanted to play as a true freshman like I was able to do at Arkansas,’ Graham said.

He played in games against Southeast Missouri State, Vanderbilt and USC in his first year at Arkansas, but tragic circumstances brought him back to Houston.

‘(There was) a terrible death, a close cousin of mine. I just came back to be closer to my family,’ he said,’ ‘I was just kind of homesick.’

The redshirt junior entered the 2008 season as the backup defensive end behind senior Tate Stewart, despite playing as an offensive lineman for his entire high school and college career. Graham said having Stewart and senior defensive end Phillip Hunt as examples helped him adjust to his new position.

‘It was really helpful because I was a linebacker at first. I went from standing up to putting my hand down,’ he said. ‘I played linebacker my whole life. I think I played (at defensive end) one game in high school.’

Graham played in 11 games and had ten total tackles in the regular season, but when Stewart left the Armed Forces Bowl with a knee injury on the second defensive drive, Graham was forced to take Stewart’s place on the field for the entire game.

‘I wasn’t prepared at all for that. I just knew I was probably going to get a lot of (playing time) because they’re a running option team,’ he said. ‘My number got called the second play of the game, unfortunately, and I just had to step up.’

Graham earned three solo tackles against the Falcons as Houston defeated Air Force 34-28 to earn the Cougars’ first bowl win in 28 years, a record Graham said he is glad is broken.

‘That’s all they were talking about. You could see the bottom of the ESPN ticker-basically, we had the longest streak (of bowl games without a win),’ he said.

Although the postseason win was a good end to the season, Graham said the Cougars found it difficult to find their rhythm as a team at first.’

‘It was just an up and down year. We really didn’t have an identity because we won our first game and then we lost our next three games’hellip; basically we were coming back, we were a second-half team. It was just a team with no identity. We didn’t know who we were,’ he said.

With one year of experience under his belt, Graham is ready take a leadership role in improving the defense next year.

‘They still don’t believe our defense is good. We’re trying to change that. We’re going to try to make people realize that it’s not just the offense that’s going to carry us; our defense is going to step up and make plays and we’re going to be fifty-fifty,’ Graham said.

As the only senior on the defensive line. Graham wants to help younger players profress the way Stewart and Hunt did for him.

‘I want to do the best I can, give 110 percent with everything that involves football and basically try to be the leader, try to carry my team and try to help other players out like Tate (Stewart) and Phillip (Hunt) helped me.’

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