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Sports / Recreation

Football, academic experiences helped shape Graham

December 10, 2011
By Tony Phifer

New CSU Director of Athletics Jack Graham looks back fondly on his playing days as a Ram.

New Director of Athletics Jack Graham had a positive experience as a student-athlete at CSU. By any measure, Jack Graham was a talented quarterback at Colorado State.

Smart, and blessed with a strong arm, he was a highly regarded prospect when he arrived in Fort Collins following a year of junior college football in his native California. By the time he left, he was good enough to be taken in the NFL Draft.

Life-changing experience

For Graham, though, football was just part of what made his time at CSU a life-changing experience. A serious student who earned his degree in history, he highly values the education that helped make him a success in the business world and, now, the Director of Athletics at CSU.

“My time here significantly defined me as a young adult,” he said. “Football instilled in me an understanding of what was required of me to be successful in life. When you’re a football player you get a very clear understanding of the correlation between a strong work ethic and a commitment to get better. That’s the lesson I learned through athletics, and that carries over to the classroom as well.”

Graham spent two years at CSU, graduating in 1975. He was one of CSU coach Sark Arslanian’s first recruits in 1973 and was part of one of the nation’s most prolific passing attacks during the 1973 and ’74 seasons.

Prolific passers

But all of Graham’s physical attributes could not overcome one shortcoming: bad timing. Graham spent his two years at CSU battling for playing time against two of the most prolific passers in school history.

As a result, Graham – named Dec. 1 as CSU’s Director of Athletics – is not listed among the great Ram quarterbacks.

As a junior, Graham competed with Jan Stuebbe for playing time. Stuebbe, the incumbent starter, finished the 1973 season ninth in the country in passing yards.

Still, Graham made his mark. He started the final game of the season at New Mexico and passed for 294 yards. At the time, his yardage total ranked second in CSU history.

Surrounded by great talent

As a senior, Graham was locked in a tight battle with Mark Driscoll for the starting job. Graham started the first two games and led the Rams to a 14-7 road win over Florida State when he threw a 76-yard touchdown pass to Willie Miller, who still is considered the greatest receiver to play for the Rams.

After that game, however, Driscoll got most of the playing time. Driscoll and Miller, who still ranks fourth in career receiving yards more than 35 years after graduating, were the nation’s top-ranked passing combination.

While playing quarterback at CSU, Graham (6) was part of one of the nation's most prolific passing attacks.“That was a long time ago, but the thing I remember most is how much fun it was,” he said. “When you’re a quarterback and throwing the ball 40 to 50 times a game, and playing with great receivers like Willie Miller and Dan O’Rourke, that’s really special. We had such great personalities on that team, and I just remember having a lot of fun.”

It was also a very talented team, with six Rams selected in the NFL Draft the following spring. Among the draftees was tight end Mark Mullaney in the first round and guard Al Simpson in the second.

Drafted by the Dolphins

In two seasons, Graham threw for 1,054 yards and four touchdowns while running for three scores. His arm strength and size (6-foot-2, 200 pounds) so impressed scouts that he was taken in the 14th round of the NFL Draft by the Miami Dolphins – a rare feat for a backup quarterback. Graham never played in the NFL but embarked on a successful career in the insurance industry.

“I was slow and I was not quick coming out of high school, but I changed all of those things in college through hard work and great coaching,” he said.

While his individual statistics were modest, Graham and his senior teammates in 1974 helped set the tone for one of the best runs of success in CSU history. Starting in 1975, the Rams put together three consecutive winning seasons, capped by a 9-2-1 mark in 1977. It was the first run of three winning seasons at CSU in 23 years.

Memorable experience

Still, an academic experience in his final days at CSU made a lasting impression. Caught up in a whirlwind of emotions after being drafted while preparing to graduate, Graham had worked hard on his senior thesis in history. The day he was to present his thesis, however, he overslept and missed his appointment.

“Fortunately, my professor was willing to give me a second chance – as long as I read an extra six books and wrote reports on all of them,” he said. “I learned a great lesson about responsibility, and I will always remember that experience.”  

A new direction

During his two-year career, Graham played with future CSU Sports Hall of Fame inductees like Mullaney, Mike Bell, Steve Cyphers, Linden King, Fred Paoli and Miller. The Rams were very talented and played an exciting brand of football – qualities he wants to restore.

 “The culture within CSU athletics, going forward, will be a culture of accountability and a culture of results. We are here to deliver results. The results aren’t just winning, but winning is absolutely one of the results that we have to deliver,” he said. “The integrity and academic excellence goes along with that as well, but we are going to win. Ultimately, I want to see our football program be a consistently top-25 ranked football team in the country. I want to see us playing in bowl games every year.”