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September 10, 2009

Richard Graham - behind the facemask

By: Matt Kovatch

It’s been said before. When an offensive lineman messes up, it’s glaringly obvious. But when he successfully does his job, you never even notice he’s there. That’s why it’s the most unheralded position on the football field. So how does a lineman’s backup ever get his due? Richard “Dick” Graham has made a career of being a backup lineman, and a pretty darn good one at that. But with regular playing time only coming by way of a starter’s injury, chances to get to know these unsung heroes are few and far between. Here’s your chance to get to know the fifth-year senior from Richmond, Va., who sat down for a Q&A just days before the Alabama game.

Q: Is it true that you were a UVa fan growing up?

A: Yeah, I was. My dad played lacrosse there, my cousin played football there, and my grandfather played basketball there. My family actually still has season tickets for football and basketball. My dad doesn’t go to the games, but he’s still holding the tickets.

Q: Did you want to go to school there as a child?

A: Growing up, I just wanted to play football or basketball somewhere in Division I. UVa was the first school to recruit me, so I thought that’s where I’d end up, but I wasn’t entirely set on going to one school. I just knew I wanted to go somewhere in the SEC or ACC.

Q: Was it tough to turn yourself into a Hokie with so much “Wahoo” in your blood?

A: Not at all. I was never anti-Virginia Tech. There were never any teams that I didn’t like … except Duke basketball. I’m definitely happy with my decision to come to Virginia Tech. I’ve made some really great friends, and I’ve had a lot of great experiences playing football.

Q: Speaking of allegiances, is it true that your brother is a student at Alabama? Has there been a lot of trash talking going back and forth?

A: Yeah, he’s a sophomore there. He talks a little bit of trash, but he’s actually been pretty cool about it. I’m a senior and he wants what’s best for me. I don’t know if he’s cheering for us as a team, but I know he’s cheering for me if I get in the game.

Q: You’re known to be able to fill in anywhere along the offensive line, but you’ve played at a lot more positions than that since you’ve picked up the game of football. Which positions haven’t you played?

A: I haven’t played tailback, fullback or cornerback. That’s it. I’ve played quarterback, safety, linebacker, defensive end, defensive tackle, tight end, tackle, guard and center – you name it.

Q: Which of those positions would you switch back to if you had a chance?

A: Quarterback, totally, but I don’t think I’d be very good anymore.

Q: Have you enjoyed your role as the offensive line’s utility guy, or has it been difficult to handle?

A: I enjoy it because it’s helped give me a better chance to play. It also helps the team – the more guys you have who can play more positions, the more depth you have. For me, it’s not that tough because when I look at a play, I know what everyone’s responsibility is. I understand how people work off of each other and what needs to be done on the play from each position. Moving around doesn’t bother me all that much. The only thing that ever bothers me is switching sides and having to get comfortable in my stance every now and then.

Q: Do you think anyone can do what you do, or do you need a certain mental capacity to be so versatile?

A: It’s definitely not a role meant for everyone. I personally don’t think it’s that hard, but it definitely takes some discipline and focus.

Q: What is one thing about each spot along the line that makes it unique from the others?

A: At left tackle, you’re protecting the quarterback’s blind side. Most teams put their best rushers on that side, so you’ve got to be a lockdown pass protector. I don’t feel like there’s much of a difference between left guard and right guard, but playing inside, you really have to compete because you’re going against really big, strong guys a lot of times. At center, you’ve got to be a manager out there and make sure everybody knows what they’re doing and make sure you know the calls – you’re like the quarterback of the line. At right tackle, you’ve got to be able to put defenders on lockdown, but at the same time, you’ve got to be able to create space in run blocking.

Q: Which spot on the line do you like the best?

A: I honestly don’t care. I’ve played about the same amount of time at each one. I spent my first two seasons at left tackle. Then in my redshirt sophomore year, I started six games at left guard and played left tackle whenever Duane Brown needed a break. Last year, I played strictly right tackle. I’ve played right guard in previous springs and that’s where I am right now.

Q: One guy who played a big role on the offensive line was one of your best buddies, funnyman Ryan Shuman. Since he graduated last year, who has taken his place as the “class clown,” so to speak?

A: First of all, Shuman thought he was a lot funnier than he actually was. But as far as the new team clown, I think [linebacker] Lyndell Gibson might be the funniest guy I’ve ever met. I think [lineman] Andrew Lanier is a funny guy, too.

Q: Well then, who on the team is like Shuman, someone who thinks he’s funny but isn’t?

A: Blake DeChristopher, totally. He thinks he’s hilarious. He also thinks he has a great beard, and you can put that in there. At least he has a better beard than Shuman did.

Q: Who has the best beard on the team?

A: [Strength and conditioning] Coach [Keith] Short told me yesterday that I did, and I’d like to believe him. Blake grows his year round and I just grow mine for camp to show him up.

Q: Facial hair seems to be an object of obsession among linemen, but another is food. How tough is it to maintain your weight and stay in shape?

A: I came in at only 255 pounds, but I got up to 282. Then, they switched me to tight end and I got down to 265. Then, I switched back to tackle and I got up to 285. Then, I got mono last summer and I was weighing about 258. Now, I’m around 306. I wanted to make sure that my last season … I’ve always felt like if I was bigger, it would have helped me, but I’m not naturally a heavy person. I’ve tried to force myself to gain weight. I lifted twice a day and I ate six or seven meals a day, and it’s helped me.

Q: Six or seven meals a day??

A: I have a fast metabolism, but over the past five years, I’ve learned to make myself eat more and more. I need to make sure I get up and eat a huge breakfast, and then I eat throughout the day – I have two lunches. I’ve tried to keep it healthy during the summer. I try to eat a pound of lean meat, like turkey or chicken, as well as vegetables, beans and rice. My favorite thing to eat is fried chicken, and I’ll eat like seven or eight pieces with sides.

Q: Most people don’t know it, but you were heavily recruited by Princeton and Harvard before Tech came into the picture. Did you give serious thought to becoming an Ivy Leaguer?

A: Coming out of high school, I had pretty good SAT scores, and both Princeton and Harvard said that if I wanted to come, I was admitted. It was a great opportunity, but I wanted to prove to people that I could play at a place where some had said I couldn’t. I felt like there were so many people who didn’t believe that I could play at the top level and I’ve always been one to try and show people up.

Q: So what does a smart guy like you have planned for the future?

A: I’m majoring in finance with a minor in sociology. My goal would be to be a top-level executive at a big financial company. I’ve been here every summer and every semester for five years, so honestly, I’m a little tired of school. I’d like to work for a few years and then maybe come back for my MBA. I’ve thought about becoming a graduate assistant in the strength and conditioning program. That would help pay for school and it would allow me to get back around football.