The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Sports

December 30, 2013

Once a basketball player, Parker Graham now finishing college football career

When Parker Graham entered the doors of Webb City High School as a freshman, he certainly wasn’t the burly 6-foot-7, 315-pound offensive lineman he is today.

He was tall, lanky and seemed more suited to run up and down the basketball court than he did getting into a three-point stance on the football field.

“He was one of those kids who was tall and skinny when he came into high school,” Webb City football coach John Roderique said. “He probably wasn’t quite as tall as he is now, but he was just a long, tall kid who had played some basketball. I just remember thinking that he could be a big ole kid someday.”

Roderique’s assessment was dead-on.

Graham developed into a 250-pound all-state lineman for the Cardinals by his senior year, helping Webb City to a Class 4 state championship in 2008. Today, Graham is every bit of the intimidating presence Roderique envisioned. With an NFL-type frame, the Webb City native starts at guard for the Oklahoma State Cowboys. The senior is set to play his final college football game Friday as the Cowboys face Missouri at the Cotton Bowl in Arlington, Texas.

“He wasn’t always what he is now, but he had the perseverance and work ethic to come in and get better every day,” Roderique said. “So many kids give up far too soon anymore. He really is a great story, because he could have said he was going to play just basketball when he was a freshman or sophomore. Luckily, he didn’t.”

The thought could have easily crossed Graham’s mind. As a kid, he looked up to his older brother Steven Brigham, who starred in basketball at Webb City and went on to play at Missouri Southern.

“Entering high school, my goal was to play basketball,” Graham said. “My brother was a great basketball player, and I was going to be just like him.

“I had always loved both sports. The transition was probably my junior year when I realized that I was 6-7 and could put on a lot of weight for football. I realized I was probably going to be a better football player than a basketball player, and that’s where all my focus went.”

Graham’s dedication to football paid off. He was starting on the offensive line for the Cardinals as a junior and was starting as an offensive tackle and defensive lineman as a senior.

“Probably as much as any kid we’ve ever had, he really showed signs of improving each and every year,” Roderique said. “When he was young, he wasn’t just a great dominant football player by any means. But he really developed himself into a really good player.”

Graham brought that work ethic with him to Oklahoma State. Knowing he would need to pack on more pounds to be a lineman in the Big 12, Graham dedicated himself to the weight room ... and the dining room.

His mother, Karen Graham, made sure her son was well fed.

“He was probably 245 pounds when he was a senior in football,” Roderique said. “I think by the time he graduated, he had gained quite a bit of weight over that spring semester. I remember his mom putting him on a 4,500-calorie-per-day diet. She worked to put the weight on him.”

Graham redshirted at Oklahoma State in 2009 and played in three games as a freshman in 2010.

Midway through his sophomore season, he assumed a starting spot on the offensive line. Graham has been a mainstay ever since, starting at both guard and tackle.

As a senior, Graham was named first-team all-Big 12 by the conference coaches. He, along with linebacker Joe Mitchell, also was presented Oklahoma State’s Barry Sanders Award, which goes to players who contribute the most with the least recognition.

Graham’s next step could be the NFL. According to nfldraftscout.com, he is listed as the No. 29 out of 152 prospective offensive tackles for the 2014 NFL Draft.

He could join the likes of Grant Wistrom as Webb City alumni to make the NFL. First, however, Graham is concerned with winning Friday’s bowl game against the Tigers.

“Honestly, I’m not too worried about the NFL stuff right now,” he said. “Right now, all of my focus is on this bowl game. I’ll worry about all of that whenever the time comes.”

As for Roderique, he will proudly watch Graham represent the Cardinals in a marquee college bowl game.

“I’m just so proud to see how far that young man has come to make himself into the player he is,” Roderique said. “Recruiting is not a for sure thing for anybody. It’s just a really proud moment, because who would have known five or six years ago that he would be in this position.

“He was a very good football player for us, but he was even a better person. He was one of those gentle giant-type kids who never had a negative thing to say about anybody. Proof to that is that he took my daughter (Hailey) to prom one year. So that’s how strongly I feel about his character.”

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