T.J. Graham was drafted in the third round of the 2012 NFL Draft by the Buffalo Bills and he was nowhere near his hometown just outside of Raleigh, North Carolina last Friday. Instead, Graham and his parents were in Philadelphia watching his younger sister Ariah compete in the Penn Relays. While T.J. was about to reach the pinnacle of his athletic career, so was his sister as she competed in the oldest and largest track and field event in the United States.
Some families may have looked at this as a scheduling conflict, but the Graham family looked at it as a blessed opportunity.
"We kind of scheduled that ahead of time that this is where we are going to be at. I know it is the biggest time of your life, but it is also a major impact on your sister's life," said T.J.'s father Trevor Graham. "We all need to be here as a family when the draft is going on and when your sister is accomplishing these things because you can still watch her compete and we can still answer the phone and we can still be together as a family. Rather than him being in one place and we are in another place it allowed him to be at the Penn Relays supporting his sister and his sister supporting him."
Graham comes from a close-knit family and he has been well coached since birth. He was born into a family with a rich athletic background and two parents who prided themselves in track and field. His mother Ann ran track in college and now coaches at Wakefield High School in Raleigh, NC where T.J. graduated. His father Trevor won a silver medal at the 1988 Summer Olympics as a member of the Jamaican 4x400 relay team. Following his running career he became a well-known track coach and then an Olympic trainer. This gave T.J. a unique insight into the professional sports world that many kids never get to see.
"It was pretty special, being a part of the professional atmosphere and seeing everything. Seeing how the professional athlete and Olympians work and how serious they take their job," said T.J. Graham. "It's just something that helped me prepare for this moment and time in my life getting to this point. I am very thankful for it and one day I think that I will be a very good coach because I am the son of two coaches."
Growing up T.J was surrounded by track and field. It was something that allowed him to become involved in athletics, but he always envisioned himself taking a different path than the one his parents did. He enjoyed certain aspects of track, but he always wanted to do something else.
"Growing up I always tried to be different from the rest of my family in the sense that I didn't want to run track," he said. "So football was something that I could do that was different and I really enjoyed it so much because track came easier to me and I just enjoyed it.
"I could run, jump, throw, catch, I could throw the ball like 70 yards when I was 13 years old. Things like that are unique to football only. Even baseball doesn't offer you that satisfaction. It is too slow of a game. Football is something that is intense and high-energy and it is just fun and I have always enjoyed it. I guess coming from a track family steered me to do something different."
T.J.'s ability to run track provided him with another asset that he could integrate into his football game. He ran track for other reasons and never hoped to do anything else, but pursue a career in football.
"I went to college and I played football and I didn't run track again until my senior year. It's just a way for me to showcase my speed and help me get faster. Speed was given to me by my parents at birth and it is a way for me to display how fast I am and compete. I love to compete, so it was something new to do and I love running and staying in shape, so it was all that just wrapped into one," he said.
"If you ask him he tells you, 'I'm a football player that happened to run track,'" said Bills GM Buddy Nix. "He didn't miss any spring practices and he didn't miss winter workouts. He ran track around football."
Both T.J.'s Mom and his Dad taught him different things that benefitted his athletic development. His mother did the majority of the teaching during his younger days prior to high school.
"I always started with the basics when it came to the kids and that is where they kind of started with me and I really focused on technique," said Ann Graham.
Once T.J. got older and he was ready to get into more weightlifting and serious training, his father really got involved.
"Well it was my Mom that was training me for the longest; my Dad didn't want to touch me. He wanted to wait until I was a lot older and it was my decision to come train with him. So, 15 or 16, probably a little later than that, sophomore year going into my junior year and it's been good since then," said T.J. "Before that I would just watch and observe stuff, when it came time to train me it was easy. All of the language and terminology he used I had already heard it. I knew it from him saying it to other people, so it was like second nature to me."
T.J. really doesn't hesitate when it comes to crediting someone with all of his success in life and who helped him get to the NFL. He gives all of the credit to his parents.
"One-hundred percent because without my parents, I wouldn't be very athletic," said Graham. "I wouldn't be a smart kid, or a good character guy. They raised me right. They gave me a nice house to live in, food on the table, so they gave me everything I have ever needed."