Senior lineman keeps head in game despite foot injury
CAROL STREAM – Although he has yet to wrap up his high school football career, Eric Graham has begun to think about getting into coaching.
And for the past two weeks, the Glenbard North senior offensive lineman has gotten an early glimpse into that world.
Sidelined since the season opener due to a stress fracture in his right foot, Graham is doing the best he can to help out his replacement, junior Axel Vargas.
“I’m doing everything I can without being on the field,” Graham said. “Any little detail that Axel looks to me and asks, I give him the best answer I can.
“And Axel has been phenomenal; he is doing really well.”
While in street clothes, Graham also has had a front row seat to the Justin Jackson show. After accounting for all five touchdowns in the Panthers’ Week 2 win over Carmel, the running back rushed for 332 yards and four scores in Friday’s 37-28 victory over Naperville North in the DuPage Valley Conference opener.
“Watching him is awesome,” the senior said. “You see a kid who can break 11 tackles. That really shouldn’t happen at the high school level. When you block for him, you trust him to make the cut. That’s the great thing. He can trust the linemen, and we can trust him.”
The selflessness of Jackson makes it even more special to block for him.
“As an offensive lineman, really the only time an announcer points you out is on a penalty,” Graham said. “And they rarely mention the guy that makes the touchdown block. But Justin will be the very first guy to come to you and say, ‘That TD was because of you. I needed that block.’”
At Glenbard North, run-blocking is a necessity. Friday, the Panthers had 48 rushing attempts compared to just 11 passing attempts.
“With a run-based offense, you know there is going to be a lot of collisions at the line,” he said. “Guys at Glenbard North love run-blocking. We are asserting our presence.”
As for when he might return to game action, Graham is hoping for the Sept. 27 game against Glenbard East, although he will have to be cleared by his doctor first.
“I can’t wait,” added the senior, who has been cleared to strength train. “On Fridays in school, it is around 8 a.m. where I start to get butterflies. And the last two weeks, it’s been like, darn it. I just have to save it for a couple more weeks.”