It was a brief, fleeting moment during a tense basketball game, but Brandon Graham still put a stranglehold on the spotlight once again, almost readying himself for the spotlight awaiting him at the NFL Draft in April.
The outgoing senior defensive end was honored during the first half of the Michigan men’s basketball team’s victory over No. 15 Connecticut on Sunday. The Detroit native took center court with Wolverine football coach Rich Rodriguez to celebrate Graham’s most recent accomplishment.
Graham was awarded the Chicago Tribune Silver Football as co-Big Ten MVP for the 2009 season. Graham — just the second defensive player in the past 25 years to win the award — was greeted with a standing ovation at Crisler Arena. After soaking in the cheers, Graham hoisted the trophy high over his head, jogging toward the Maize Rage with his trademark ear-to-ear grin.
As carefree and comfortable as he seemed Sunday, the days will only become more pressure-packed from here. The effective end of Graham’s offseason is approaching quickly, with practice for the 2010 Under Armour Senior Bowl beginning Jan. 25 in Mobile, Ala. Graham said he hasn’t met any coaches from his North Team yet, but has spoken briefly with President Steve Hale and has taken some passing glances at his itinerary.
“(Right now) I’m just maintaining my focus, working out as much as I can and getting football-ready for the Senior Bowl,” Graham said.
Graham earned second-team All-America honors in 2009, leading the nation with 26 tackles for loss and recording 10.5 sacks in 12 games. In 47 career games, Graham notched 56 tackles for loss and 29.5 sacks.
Graham said he’s spent much of his time within the walls of Schembechler Hall with Michigan Strength and Conditioning coach Mike Barwis, grinding through the same workouts he did during football season in preparation for the NFL Scouting Combine on Feb. 24.
“(Barwis) knows what it takes to get it done,” Graham said of Barwis’s ability to mold NFL-caliber bodies. “That’s why I really chose to stay here and work out with him. My agent thought it was a great idea, because Mike Barwis is the best. I appreciate everything he does for me.
“I’m very excited about the whole process and getting ready. I know I’m going to go out there and show out. That’s what I do.”
Graham said he isn’t sure where he’ll be selected in April’s upcoming NFL Draft, but is confident he will be chosen within the first two rounds. He said he’s heard a wide variety of opinions but hasn’t worried too much about his draft stock.
And the experts differ greatly on Graham’s pro potential — and even his ideal position. ESPN Scouts Inc. ranks Graham as the 42nd overall draft prospect and the No. 7 defensive end in the class. But others see Graham moving to outside linebacker at the next level. NFLDraftScout.com (a CBS Sports affiliate) rates Graham the 18th-best player overall in their latest mock draft, and have him slotted as the third linebacker to be selected in April.
For those reasons, Graham suggested he is content with controlling only what he does in the weight room, and putting his faith in agent Joel Segal of Blue Equity Sports Television (BEST), who also represents senior running back Brandon Minor.
“Joel Segal is all about his players, all about his client and all about his job,” Graham said. “He does the best job, and I appreciate everything he’s done for me. He gives me great advice. He’s always going to keep me 12 steps ahead.”