LAST IN EIGHT-PART SERIES
Football does not have critics as much as it has cynics.
And they are out there, cloaked in anonymity, disguising themselves with aliases on message boards and Kleenex-over-the-mouthpiece voices on call-in shows. Their mantra this summer is whether Taylor Graham — the Hawaii quarterback with good manners and mannerisms — can absorb a hit after not starting a game in two years at Ohio State and then a redshirt season with the Rainbow Warriors.
That question actually was addressed in January 2012, his first month in Hawaii and several weeks after Norm Chow was named as head coach. That was when Graham learned Sandy’s undertow is more unforgiving than any pass-rusher.
"Typical mainland arrogance thinking he can swim in any water," Graham said, smiling. "That’s how I almost drowned. Sandy’s Beach. That’s vicious. I won’t go into much detail. But, maybe, there was some arm-waving."
The story embodied Graham’s undercurrent of confidence, unwavering faith, and the willingness to learn from mistakes. Asked why Graham will start in the opener against USC, Chow listed the powerful right arm, the smooth motion, the command of the huddle and …
"Taylor Graham has the ‘It’ factor," Chow said. "He’s a leader. He’s smart."
Quarterbacks coach Jordan Wynn noted Graham spends hours in the football office studying videos. "He’s up there every night watching his opponent," Wynn said.
In turn, teammates are looking to Graham. "His peers selected him as a leader," Wynn said. "He did a good job of taking over."
As a former starting quarterback at Utah, Wynn offered this advice to Graham: "The main thing is to be yourself."
Graham said: "Players know if you’re faking it. For myself, being a little more vocal doesn’t mean I have to talk all the time. It also doesn’t mean I have to be quiet all the time. You have to pick your places where you want to put your comments and your encouragements."
Graham has competed in many sports from basketball to racquetball, but football has had the strongest grip.
"In second grade, my first time playing football, I was a tight end," Graham recalled. "Ever since then, I always wanted to be quarterback. Naturally, it was because of who my dad was."
Kent Graham was an NFL quarterback for 11 seasons.
"There was no pressure," Taylor Graham said of his parents. "If I didn’t want to play football, they were OK with that. For some reason, though, I had a passion for it at a very young age."
For Graham, football is second in importance to his Christian faith. "I grew up in a Christian home," Graham said. "When I was 3, I accepted Christ."
Graham attends a nondenominational Christian church in Kaimuki. He also is a member of Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
"There is a misconception Christians are, maybe, a little softer or not as aggressive," Graham said. "That’s not the case at all. As a Christian, you believe God has given you talents and abilities for a reason. You want to use those to glorify God. This might be a simple analogy, but if your parents give you a present, you don’t want it to sit on the shelf. They want you to use it and enjoy it, the same way God has given us all talents and abilities. He wants us to use them."
To be sure, Graham has worked on developing his skills. One goal was to become more mobile. Strength coaches Tommy Heffernan and then Gary Beemer crafted a program of more nutritional meals and intensive workouts.
"Cutting fat and building muscle is the best way to say it," Graham said. "I’ve dropped 15, 20 pounds since I got here. I was a bigger boy back then. That’s a credit to coach Heffernan and coach Beemer."
Graham does admit to a daily temptation. "I have a sweet tooth," Graham said. "It’s ice cream. I’m a meat-and-potatoes-and-ice-cream guy."
At a recent practice, Graham was quick to notice that former NFL lineman Aaron Taylor, the television analyst for Thursday’s game, was wearing a malasadas T-shirt.
"I saw that right away," Graham said. "Maybe subconsciously I’m a malasadas guy."