February 24th, 2006
by Clark Ruhland, Senior Staff Writer
This is the third part in the Collegiate Times' series featuring future Virginia Tech football players. This week we look at defensive end John Graves of Meadowbrook High in Richmond.
Ask John Graves if he is ready to play football in Lane Stadium.
"I can’t wait to run out of that tunnel for the first time as a player," said Graves. "I remember the first time I went to a Tech game. It was an outrageous environment."
The four-star standout defensive end from Meadowbrook High School in Richmond is one of four new defensive ends in the Virginia Tech football 2006 freshman class.
Graves was recruited by Jim Cavanaugh, Tech’s recruiting coordinator and defensive backs coach. Cavanaugh knew Graves would fit in perfectly with the Hokies.
"He’s relentless, and a mentally tough kid," said Cavanaugh. "He plays really well with his hands. Most guys out of high school have problems playing with their hands, but John does a great job with his hands, which is a big plus."
Cavanaugh first saw Graves play on a recruiting trip through Richmond, but for a different reason.
"John was a sophomore when I first saw him play," Cavanaugh said. "I had heard about this good sophomore at Meadowbrook. But, I was evaluating a player on the other team that night from Petersburg. I was watching the Petersburg player at tight end and defensive end.
"Quite honestly, as the game progressed, I ended up watching John more and more. I knew at that point that John was a young man I would be recruiting."
Graves was heavily recruited by major schools throughout the eastern part of the country.
"I was recruited by all sorts of schools," Graves said. "There are so many of them. Off the top of my head, I remember Tech, Florida, Georgia, Virginia, Boston College, North Carolina, N.C. State, Maryland, Clemson, Ohio State and Michigan. There were a few more in there as well."
The soft-spoken 6-foot-3-inch, 249-pound player said his decision to choose a school was difficult.
After narrowing it down to Tech, U.Va and Georgia, he decided that playing for the Hokies would make him feel right at home.
"A lot of my decision had to do with playing in-state. Guys that play in the state of Virginia have a connection with Virginia Tech in some way. A lot of the guys I played against and respected in high school play at Tech now."
Playing football for Virginia Tech next season is something Graves did not imagine four years ago.
"I never even thought about playing college football when I started playing in high school," he said. "I knew I wanted to go to college by getting good grades, but I didn’t think I could go to college on a football scholarship."
However, Meadowbrook head coach Bill Bowles had a feeling Graves was a star in the making.
"We moved him to varsity as a freshman," said Bowles. "He had the size, but not quite the footwork. Going into his sophomore year, his speed really picked up, and at that point we knew he could play (Division 1)."
Graves’ fast technique of play led the coaching staff to completely change the defensive system at Meadowbrook. According to Bowles, the result was a 31-7 record since and the 2004 state championship.
The leadership and playing ability of Graves left the Meadowbrook coaches in awe with some of his moves on the field.
"John sure did make some big plays," Bowles said. "One game that stands out in my mind was when John was a junior. The other team pulled two guards against John on a running play. John reached over the two guards and pulled the running back over top of them and put him on the ground."
Last season, Graves had 65 tackles, forced two fumbles, and blocked five kicks en route to district defensive player of the year honors. He says high school has given him memories he will never forget.
"I have been playing for Meadowbrook for five years," Graves said. "When you play that long, you bond with the coaches and it is really difficult. Coach Bowles is almost like my second father."
Bowles is proud to see Graves go on to be a Hokie.
"You can’t replace a guy like him. John is a very soft-spoken individual and has great manners, and he gets that from his folks," Bowles said. "They are both hard-working people and have raised a fine young man. It is great for our program to see John go on to play at Tech."
Graves is glad his parents do not have too far of a drive to see their son play.
"My mom and dad have never missed one of my games," Graves said. "They like the fact that they don’t have to drive too far to see me play. It’s great that I am in-state. My dad just likes to come to watch my practice. I have a feeling he’ll be up in Blacksburg a lot this fall."
Cavanaugh and Tech defensive line coach Charlie Wiles say the potential for Graves to play in the upcoming season is a strong possibility.
"We need a fourth defensive end, and he’ll get every opportunity to earn that role," Cavanaugh said. "Some guys come in and have talent, but need to learn our defensive scheme. Our scheme lends itself to his abilities. He should fit in well with the four-man front at the end position."
The entire coaching staff cannot wait to welcome Graves when he comes to Blacksburg to stay on July 1.
"Graves is a great kid, and a really great guy," Cavanaugh said. "He is a true student athlete and he is a very humble guy for all of the accolades he has. They come no finer than John, both on and off the field."
Graves is ready for his first opportunity to run out of the tunnel into a packed Lane Stadium.
"It’s a great place to just see a college football game," Graves said. "I love the fans in Blacksburg. They are so supportive and really take ownership of the team, something I think is very important to have."