Last season, Jamie Graham spent the season redshirting and learning the trade of being a defensive back in the SEC.
Then during the offseason, Vanderbilt coaches saw a loaded defensive backfield and decided to put Graham to use as a wide receiver.
That decision has started to pay off big-time.
Graham, a redshirt freshman from Whites Creek High, had the biggest game of his career so far against Georgia, catching two touchdown passes with four receptions overall.
“I think I’m making strides,” Graham said on Monday. “I think I had natural hands because I played DB before.”
One thing Graham certainly has is natural athletic ability. He starred in basketball as well as in football when he was with the Cobras in high school. He walked on the Vanderbilt basketball team as a reserve guard last season and by the time the year was over, he was wreaking havoc defensively against the Vanderbilt first team.
But his exploits with basketball meant he missed some needed practice time at spring practice. Vanderbilt coach Bobby Johnson said the fact that Graham has done so well at receiver proves both his athletic ability and work ethic.
“We knew he was a very fine athlete,” Johnson said. “It was a matter of time before he’d start to be productive.
“He’s just a pretty natural football player.”
Graham said he was motivated before the season by former Commodore star Corey Chavous, now a safety with the St. Louis Rams. Graham said Chavous gave the current Commodores a pep talk about the improvement the program has shown in recent years and that he encouraged the 2008 ’Dores to push it even further.
He’s thinking about that even more this week as the Commodores prepare to take on Duke (3-3) at home on Saturday. A victory would make Vanderbilt bowl eligible for the first time since 1982.
“We can change history,” Graham said.
However, Graham says the Commodores have plenty of respect for the Blue Devils, if for no other reason than they know exactly what they are going through. Like Vanderbilt, Duke is an academic school that hasn’t exactly been known for it’s football program in recent years.
This season that has changed with the arrival of head coach David Cutcliffe. Cutcliffe is no stranger to Vanderbilt stadium, having visited many times as head coach at Ole Miss and offensive coordinator at Tennessee.
“Duke is getting better,” Graham said. “People look at Duke like they used to look at Vandy. We cannot overlook these guys. They’re trying to get a bowl game like we are.”
Graham’s emergence as a receiver threat improves Vanderbilt’s chances against Duke. He’s steadily improved during the season, with Johnson noting his play in the loss to Mississippi State as well.
“He’s liking it right now,” Johnson said. “We’ll start giving him the ball and see what he can do with it. We like him liking it.”