(CBS Local)- The journey to the 2021 NFL Draft has been one a long time in the making for University of Texas senior defensive lineman Ta'Quon Graham. The Temple, Texas native began playing football when he was 7-8 years old when one of the people at the local Boys and Girls club approached his older brother Broderick Thompson and asked if Graham was involved in any sports before handing him a flyer to come to tryouts.
His interest in the game grew out of watching his brother play Madden and wanting to do what he saw the virtual versions of players doing.
"I just kind of took it and ran with it and now, here we are," said Graham in an interview with CBS Local's Ryan Mayer.
Though the Madden battles were heavily in his brother's favor because of the age difference between the two, the bond over the game grew as Thompson took to recording his youth games and teaching him about watching film. It was something that Graham says he didn't appreciate at the time, but recognized later how it helped his game.
"When I was younger I kind of thought my brother was taking the football thing too serious when I was in pee wee and it used to get on my nerves," said Graham. "He used to come, no lie, with a little camera and record every single, I was playing running back, and he would record every single touch and he would be putting these things together. Then, after the game he would come over to our mom's house and he would sit me down and make me watch and say, 'hey what did you do wrong, what can you do better? Why'd you miss this tackle or why didn't you score on this play?' At the time, me still being a kid, I didn't know why he was making me watch film. At the time I just thought he was criticizing me. But, he introduced me to that and gave me a little base of watching film without me even knowing it. All I can say is I appreciate that and I definitely think that helps me even now."
Graham furthered developed that film study during his four years with the Longhorns and points to that as part of what helped him adjust to the transition from high school to the college level. Through four years at Texas, he played in 48 games, tallied 72 total tackles, 23 for loss along with seven sacks from his interior line spot.
The draft process hasn't been a normal one due to the COVID pandemic, though some vestiges of normalcy returned this year as schools were able to hold pro days with NFL teams in attendance. For Graham, the process began first with a week at the Reese's Senior Bowl in Mobile, AL before the Texas pro day on March 11. Graham said the biggest thing he was looking to do was show off his athleticism and versatility in front of the NFL teams.
"I was just trying to show my athleticism, show that I am a big, strong, powerful guy as well as how I can move with the position drills and stuff like that," said Graham. "I just wanted to go out there, show my athleticism, how I can move and what I can do."
In his preparation for the NFL, his big focus has been in the weight room and film study, specifically watching and learning the nuances of each of the four spots along the defensive line because he sees his versatility as a strength moving forward.
"Watching all four spots. That's something that is a big part of my game, being able to play a lot of different spots," said Graham. "I like watching all the different techniques and watching how these defenses attack these pro offenses. I'm just trying to soak in as much game as I can before I jump to this NFL situation."
To that end, Graham really studies former Houston Texans and current Arizona Cardinals defensive lineman J.J. Watt for how he's able to move from the interior of the line to the outside and still be effective. Watt, along with Chicago Bears pass rusher Khalil Mack and Philadelphia Eagles defensive tackle Fletcher Cox and Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald are the players that Graham spotlighted as ones he studies to pick up new aspects to add to his game.
"I try to take a little piece of everyone's game and make it my own," said Graham. "Just try to emulate what they do and certain parts of their games. I might not try to be just like them but try to make some of their moves my own. That's the best thing I can do."
Graham will look to bring those added facets to his game to the NFL level when the 2021 NFL Draft gets underway in Cleveland on Thursday, April 29.
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