For the love of the gridiron

Wheaton North senior Taylor Graham never felt obligated to play football, become a quarterback or commit to Ohio State because his father, Kent Graham, once did all those things.

No, Graham chose those paths because that's what he sought for himself.

"He's always told me if I love football, that's what I should do," Graham said. "If not, there's no problem with that. I have to do whatever I love and do it to my fullest. It turned out to be football."

Football has made it tough for Graham over the past few years to keep that love. As a junior, he broke his ankle in the fifth game of the season and had to sit out the rest of the year. Just as he was returning to form this past season, he tore the PCL in his knee during the Falcons' second game, continued playing, aggravated the injury four games later and again was forced to shut his year down.

For many, back-to-back injuries like Graham's would be too much to handle. It'd be easy to understand if Graham were depressed and outwardly frustrated by his bad luck.

Graham took a different approach, though. He kept his head up, continued to attend practice, watch film and was there as a captain to call the coin toss every game.

"He's the type of kid that doesn't get down about anything," Wheaton North coach Joe Wardynski said. "On the field, he doesn't get rattled when things aren't going well. For a kid who lost his junior and senior seasons to injury, he could have been bitter -- 'Why me?' He wasn't like that."

Graham admits the second injury was greatly disappointing, but he also understood his competitive playing days weren't done. He had committed to Ohio State over a list of suitors during the summer.

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"I'm just hoping all these injuries are behind me now," Graham said. "I've had a string of bad luck in my high school career. I didn't get to accomplish all of my goals in high school. At the same time, I know I have a great future ahead of me at Ohio State."

Ohio State happens to be where his father played before going on to a decade-long NFL career, but Graham didn't decide on the Buckeyes simply because of that. He was sold for other reasons as well.

"Who wouldn't want to play in The Horseshoe, play for coach [Jim] Tressel, play for Ohio State?" Graham said. "They win year in and year out. They just won the Rose Bowl."

When Graham has been on the field, he has shown he is a high-level quarterback. He plays like a quarterback's kid. He recognizes defenses and knows where to get the ball. He also has the physical tools required to play in the Big Ten.

Graham was building up a strong season before his senior year was cut short. In his first game back, he was 14-of-26 with 160 yards and two touchdowns in a win. The Falcons opened their conference season with a win as Graham completed 10 of 19 passes with a touchdown. From there, the injury slowed him down.

"He's very intelligent," Wardynski said. "He has a great feel for the game. Mentally, he's pretty sharp. Physically, he has size and arm strength. He's 6-4, 215 and has big strong arm, and he can make a lot of throws you ask college kids to make."

Graham has begun training again. He has been playing basketball in gym class and testing out his knee. He hopes to return to a football field in the coming weeks and start passing again.
Through all of his adversities, Graham has taken some life lessons.

"I never want to quit," Graham said. "I want to give 100 percent whenever I can. It sounds cheesy. From all these injuries, what really matters is effort. If you give that, you can never be disappointed from that. I want to do the best I can at that."

Scott Powers covers high school and college sports for ESPNChicago.com and can be reached at preps@espnchicago.com.