Published November 20, 2014
Receiver T.J. Graham's speedy feet seldom have failed him.
His hands? That's another story.
The son of a former Olympic sprinter and track coach enters his senior season at North Carolina State as the team's top returning option at wide receiver.
The Wolfpack's most prolific return man in school history clearly doesn't want to fumble away his final year.
He says he's had some drops but that was a matter of not being focused. So in the offseason, he's taken the time to become a better leader and "making my hands a lot surer."
Toward that, he worked on a variety of drills to improve his hand-eye coordination and become a more complete receiver.
He caught tennis balls. He covered his face before snagging footballs. He flipped light switches off and on before making catches.
"T.J. definitely worked really hard this summer catching the ball," said new quarterback — and old friend — Mike Glennon. "I've definitely seen improvement during this camp."
That can only help the Wolfpack's transition at quarterback as redshirt junior Glennon is taking over for three-year starter Russell Wilson.
Graham will be the team's most experienced wideout as both starting receivers from last year are gone. He caught 25 passes for 316 yards with four touchdowns in 2010, and has made 10 starts in three years.
"We came in together, T.J. was the first guy I met when I came here," Glennon said. "We talked throughout our senior years (in high school) and we kind of envisioned ourselves coming here together, being a quarterback-receiver tandem, and now that is finally here."
Both Glennon and Graham seem ready for it.
Graham has come a long way from his days growing up in north Raleigh, calling himself "a late bloomer" whose growth spurt didn't come until he was about 16 years old.
His father, Trevor Graham, was a member of the Jamaican 4x400-meter relay team at the Seoul Olympics in 1988. Once his son got older, the former coach of Justin Gatlin, Marion Jones and other world-class sprinters taught him how to become faster.
"I can't tell you all the tricks," T.J. Graham said with a laugh, "but it was mostly genetics."
That quickness helped him earn playing time as a freshman in 2008, starting six games and catching 16 passes while showing more promise as a returner of kickoffs and punts.
He returned a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown as a freshman, brought a kickoff 93 yards for a score the following year and in 2010 his 87-yard punt return for a TD was a key play in N.C. State's fourth straight win over rival North Carolina.
He holds five school records for kickoff returns, and no Wolfpack player has returned more kickoffs in his career (93) than Graham — and he still has another season to go.
"Coming in as a freshman, I knew speed was my strength," Graham said. "I wasn't very strong, I didn't know the plays and my hands weren't sure hands. I wasn't strong enough to catch the ball."
At the time, he said his strategy was to run fast every play.
"I had to develop the other skills and I had to keep the speed going," he added. "So now, I just have to run fast, catch the ball, play strong, because I want to develop as a complete receiver instead of just a really fast guy."