A big theme for Big East Media Day was the status of Ray Graham’s ACL. There’s no specifics on it. Just that it is coming along and Graham plans to be ready.
Senior running back Ray Graham said he plans to play Sept. 1, when Pitt opens the season against Youngstown State, but he won’t push his recovery from a serious right knee injury beyond the limits of his body.
“You definitely ease your way into it,” he said. “I think I’m Superman, but at the end of the day, we aren’t really Superman.”
He and Coach Chryst are definitely planning on taking it cautiously in getting him ready. That means protecting him in training camp.
Graham says his knee feels good, but coach Paul Chryst prefers to be cautious with his star player and won’t rush him back too quickly. Graham will open camp with a non-contact jersey, and then the training staff will take it from there to see how he does.
“No matter how your workouts go in the summer, once you start doing the football over and over, we have to be smart and say let’s make sure he’s progressing and not taking steps back,” Chryst said. “I’d rather be a little bit cautious than speed it up out of the gates too fast.
“He has to get where he can trust himself first and build the pieces of contact. So I’d err on being much more cautious with him, until you know they know they’re not thinking about it and they can just go.”
Graham says he plans on wearing a knee brace initially just to be sure he has enough stability in his knee to be able to make his cuts without thinking about getting hurt again.
“I feel good, my confidence is there. At the end of the day it’s more of a mental thing,” Graham said. “I don’t want to be out there timid because I don’t want to get hurt again. I worked too hard for this. I put too much sacrifice and hard work to getting back to being healthy.”
And let’s be really honest. Graham has NFL RB potential. That’s his economic future. He’s already going to be downgraded by NFL front offices regardless of how well he comes back because of the ACL injury. Coming back slowly lessens the chance of any setbacks — and more red flags.
Chryst is playing this very smartly. Especially as the new new head coach. He’s putting the player’s safety (and future) ahead of any needs for the team. He also has a pretty good idea of what Graham can do, and aside from working off the rust and getting to playing condition, an experienced player like Ray Graham does not need training camp like others will.
The slow go with Graham in camp will also give Pitt a chance to see more from spring practice star, Isaac Bennett. And of course, heralded freshman Rushel Shell. An added plus. Especially since all plans likely include using them in the season. Letting them get a lot more reps with the first team will help. Not to mention it encourages Graham not to take it too slow in camp.
“It is definitely going to give me a little push,” Graham said of the presence of Bennett, Shell and others.
“It will let me know that [I have] to get things going. We have these two backs who are not slouches, who are coming in thinking they are going to play, and I want to play as well.”
Beyond the teammates and even Pitt fans who were encouraging Graham, there was also his half-brother Khaseem Greene. The Rutgers linebacker and all-Big East player had his own nasty ankle injury in the Pinstripe Bowl that kept him out of spring practices.
“I never did,” Graham said. “This was one of my first big injuries. The (Pitt) players kept me happy. They brought me up when I was down. I had no reason to be mad. The fans, they acknowledged me. They show big love. That’s a big blessing right there that you never forget about.”
A major help to him throughout the whole thing was the guidance of his brother, Rutgers linebacker Khaseem Greene. Greene sustained a leg injury in his team’s Pinstripe Bowl win over Iowa State. As if the two needed to be closer, they were both forced to miss spring drills due to injury, not to mention having to both play for new head coaches.
“That’s crazy, right?” Graham said, referring to both having new coaches. “Whatever Khaseem was doing, I was doing. Everything happens for a reason. This could be for the better. We just have to move of forward. You can’t look back. What happened in the past is in the past.”
Even the injuries bred competition. Aided in no small part by their uncle.
“I give a lot of credit to my uncle Hakeem. He’s always been our biggest critic — he’s always been an advocate,” Greene said “There’d be days where I’d be feeling lazy and I’d have two workouts by design over my break set up, and he’d send me a video of Ray doing something — squatting, whatever it may be. And he’s like ‘Ray is out here working, what are you doing?’ and vice versa. He’d send Ray a video of me doing a workout and say ‘Khas[eem] is out here working, what are you doing?”
So just like they always have, Greene and Graham pushed each other. While doing so, they hope to bear witness to each other’s success.
“At the end of the day, that’s my brother. I want to see him succeed just as much as he wants to see me succeed,” Greene said. “So like I said it’s been competitive between us all our lives, but it’s for the better. “