It's hard to
miss a six-foot-six-inch 326-pound man, but offensive linemen never get
the credit they deserve. Eric Graham has played in obscurity ever since
he was the big kid picked by his coaches to block for the smaller kids.
But now the Richlands native has embarked on his professional football
career, and you couldn't find a more worthy candidate for all the good
things bound to come his way.
It's almost physically impossible, but Graham has always played in the
shadow of others. Eric played scholastically at Richlands High School,
where fans and scouts came out to see defensive end Mario Williams
play. Eric was a big reason why his Wildcats made the playoffs
his senior year that ended a long postseason drought. Big ol' number 78
was clearing holes on the left side of the line, and was always the
first guy in the end zone to celebrate with teammates, but the last to
make the local highlight shows.
Eric was a late recruit by Steve Logan and the Pirate staff, but he did
get one of the last available scholarships and red shirted his first
year. Eric's five years were marked by three different head coaches and
four different offensive coordinators. The O'line always seemed to be
in a state of flux, but the one constant was Graham who started 34
straight games before an injury late in his senior season put Eric on
the shelf for the NC State game. But Graham returned for the Pirates'
bowl game in Birmingham, then played in two postseason bowls in Hawaii
Graham battled a shoulder injury his last two years at ECU, and his
professional prospects were hurt when he was unable to work out at full
strength for NFL officials because of a hamstring injury he suffered
while training. Eric had hoped to be drafted just like his former
Richlands teammate Williams who was the number one pick in the NFL
Draft a year before. But teams passed on the six-foot-six-inch
326-pounder with the idea they could sign him as a free agent. The
Carolina Panthers ended up getting Eric's signature in return for his
familiar number 78 jersey. He just finished up his first mini
camp in Charlotte as he tries to learn the zone blocking scheme of new
offensive coordinator Jeff Davidson. The Panthers have 15 lineman on
their roster, and they usually keep nine on the 53-man roster and few
more on the practice squad, so Graham has his work cut out for him, but
it's not out of the question. Especially for a guy who has been
overlooked most of his life.
But the best thing about Graham is no matter what happens in his
professional football career, Eric will still be as humble and nice as
anyone you will ever meet. He is the friend everyone hopes they have.
He never left James Pinkney's side when the quarterback had academic
issues and had to drop out of school for a semester. He was chosen to
be on the player committee that helped bring Skip Holtz to Greenville.
He was even a regular at Pirate basketball games despite all the tough
It's not hard to figure out where Eric learned his manners and loyalty
from. His mother and father are hard working folks who were always in
attendance at his games. He addresses all his elders as Mister or
Misses. He loves his home town of Richlands and always seemed to be in
Onslow County when he had a free moment away from the gridiron. He was
there on Mario Williams day to congratulate his former teammate on his
success. But unlike Williams who moved his whole family to
Houston with him after he was drafted by the Texans, Graham will always
call Richlands home and will most likely return to that area when his
playing career is over.
Eric Graham may never be the most famous Pirate alum, but he will
probably be one of the most loyal, and when it's all said and done,
that is what will count the most.