As I sat in Steve Bragg’s office not far from the train tracks which cut through the east Dallas suburbs I couldn’t help but notice the glass case in the corner neatly organized with photos and autographed helmets from some of the best college football programs in the country.
Football is more than just a hobby in Texas, particularly at the high school level where the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex churns out nearly as many Division-I players as fried Twinkie’s at the Texas State Fair.
Todd was the type of kid that all coaches have. Todd was a winner
Bragg, a former coach and now the Mesquite High School district athletic director, leaned back in his chair and calmly folded his arms.
“He always had that drive,” he matter-of-factly explained to me when describing longtime friend Todd Graham. “That drive to be successful.”
Few know better than Bragg who coached with Graham at his first stop in the late 80’s at nearby Poteet High School, just down the street from Todd’s alma mater, North Mesquite.
Nothing came easy for Graham.
Growing up Graham wasn’t raised with a silver spoon, far from it, actually. His dad wasn’t around for most of his youth and his mother Carol often worked two, sometimes three jobs to keep food on the table and clothes on the backs of Todd and his three siblings.
As the story goes Graham was a typical teenager, frequently tempted by the fine line of right and wrong. He used sports (football and track) as an escape and at the same time, a bridge to success on and off the field at North Mesquite. He was a standout defensive back for the Stallions who ran a 4.5 forty-yard dash. He also dabbled on offense at wide receiver “when we needed to score” as former head coach Gary Childress said smiling.
“I bet he didn’t play 15-20 snaps of offense [his senior year] and probably scored seven times,” he said. “That’s pretty special.”
When he wasn’t playing sports he was watching his beloved Dallas Cowboys. He even worked as a security guard at the old Texas Stadium.
The gifted all-around athlete was never recruited by heavy-hitters like Oklahoma, Texas or Texas A&M but became a two-time All-American defensive back at East Central University in Ada, Oklahoma.
After college, coaching was the next step according to the legendary Childress who knew long before Graham would one day make a good one.
“He always wanted to coach,” Childress explained. “He talked to me about it. Todd was the type of kid that all coaches have. Todd was a winner. Every now and then you get a winner that’s going to be a winner, regardless. He was on that path the whole time. He was the perfect example of somebody who was going to be a coach. And a good one.”
Graham’s transition was made easier by the fact the man who hired him at Poteet knew his pedigree would lead to success on the sideline.
“I was the defensive coordinator at North Mesquite when Todd was playing,” Bill Taylor told Pros2Preps.com. “It was just a natural progression. I recognized Todd’s energy and fire that he had in him. He wanted to coach.”
At Poteet he coached the secondary and served as the special team’s coordinator, an area he still puts great emphasis on today at Arizona State.
Poteet served as the first in Graham’s steady climb up the coaching ranks. He’s known around the Metroplex for building Allen High School north of Dallas into one of the top programs year in and year out in the state.
No one, maybe not even Graham himself, knows what his coaching future holds beyond ASU but you can bet he’s never going to change his coaching ways or forget his roots along the way.