The dependability and consistency of NC State’s receivers is one of the biggest questions facing the Wolfpack this fall.
The speed of receiver T.J. Graham is not.
Graham, who is NC State’s leading returning receiver with 25 catches, has qualified in the 100-meter dash for this weekend’s NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships in Des Moines, Iowa with a time of 10.43. This is the first time he's run track in three years. He was a high school star, but this is his first season competing with NC State.
I caught up with Graham recently to check in on the status of NC State’s receivers, and the expectations he has for himself this fall. Here are the highlights of our conversation.
What’s your take on the receivers as a group based on what you saw this spring?
T.J. Graham: We’ve got a lot of new people playing, new players. The experience is not as great as it’s been in the past, but there’s a lot of upside. We’ll be a lot better during the season when we get more experience under our belts and a few games to understand what’s going on. But this spring has really helped us form a chemistry, bond relationships and friendships and form leadership.
Because you have the most returning catches, do you feel like you have to be the guy, that there’s an assumption out there it’s going to be you?
TJG: I’ve been told I should’ve been the guy years ago. I’ve been sitting behind the guys in front of me. I just always thought I was the younger guy, so this year it’s fallen right into my lap to take over and be the new guy.
Are you ready for that?
TJG: I’ve been ready. I shouldn’t say I’ve been ready, but I’ve been prepared to handle it a lot better than I would have in the past. This year I should be well prepared leadership-wise and everything.
Do you feel like you should’ve produced more, or it just wasn’t the right situation and right time because there were older guys ahead of you? What’s your take on how your career has gone so far?
TJG: I feel like I’ve underachieved a lot. I’m probably my biggest critic. I’m hard on myself all the time. When I mess up, I’m down on myself way too much. I feel like I could’ve been a lot better than I have in the past, but my sister told me all the time, it’s just not my time to shine yet. My time will come. And when that time comes, I’ll be ready for it. It won’t catch me off-guard. I was fortunate to have the guys in front of me who could show me the way and be good leaders.
How important is it for you to reach that goal this year? Have you set any goals number-wise?
TJG: Numbers don’t mean anything to me, it’s more of what you accomplish in the league. If I want to be an individual-type player and not worry about my team, then yes, I would shoot for those numbers, but I just want my team to do well and be there for my teammates.
Are you guys aware of the fact that you’re the one position group that Tom O’Brien has said is still unsettled?
TJG: Of course we are. We’re a bunch of knuckleheads. We have probably the most athletic group on the whole team, we just don’t know what to do with ourselves. We need to figure out what each person is, how we’re going to contribute, but getting into camp will help settle that.
TJG: It’s a little different. You have the quick timing from him. He’s quick, he’s very persistent, he’s good with his steps. Russell is more, he’ll create and you have to adjust with him. Mike, he’s going to throw the ball or throw it away.
TJG: Not more predictable, but run your route properly and the ball will be right where it’s supposed to be. Mike, he’s going to throw the ball deep. Russell runs and makes plays, just makes plays. Different types of players.
Are you guys in sync yet, or is that still developing?
TJG: Second team last year, I ran with Mike all the time. I’d split time with the first team to give them breaks, but most of the time, when the second team was up, I’d be with Mike. Our chemistry is good, but it can be a lot better. As soon as we get going, you guys will definitely notice our chemistry is good.
Do you guys, not just the receivers, but as a team feel any obligation to continue the progress that was made in last year’s nine-win season?
TJG: Of course. We feel like they’ve laid the foundation, now we build on top of it. We’ve struggled in past years to get over that hump. We’ve had good teams in the past, but we haven’t been consistent. Last year we showed we have consistency and can play well on both sides of the ball. This year we have to build on that. Regardless of what weaknesses we say we have, we’ve had weaknesses in the past, but we’ve still done well. This year it falls to the receivers as a weakness according to coach O’Brien. We just have to step up and rise to the challenge.