In Focus: Football's Daniel Graff
Daniel Graff is a Valuable Asset to the LSU Program
LSU special teams ace Daniel Graff never imagined he would be running down kick returners and blocking punts for one of the top collegiate programs in the country. In fact, following his senior season at Archbishop Rummel High School in 2004 he had given up on football altogether.
Despite earning all-district 10-5A honors as a starting cornerback on one of the state's top defenses, the Metairie, La. product didn't have a single scholarship offer to play intercollegiate football. Schools deemed him too small to compete at the next level.
"I was just a little, skinny kid ... 150 pounds soaking wet," Graff joked.
Unlike football, however, Graff opened the eyes of collegiate coaches on the running track. An all-state performer who ran a blistering 10.4 second 100-meter dash, Graff accepted a scholarship offer to run for Louisiana-Lafayette.
But by a strange twist of fate, the Fighting Tiger senior would eventually make his way back to the gridiron.
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Graff's track career at UL-Lafayette ended just five days after it started when he had to help his father and older brother evacuate to Little Rock, Ark., on Aug. 27, 2005, while Hurricane Katrina bore down on the region. The hurricane's devastating storm surge and fierce winds ravaged the region two days later and left his father's Metairie home in disarray.
He couldn't leave his father and brother with the daunting task of rebuilding the home by themselves, so he left the university and took the rest of the year off to help his family with the rebuilding effort.
In the fall of 2006 he enrolled at the University of New Orleans in hopes of gaining the credit hours needed to transfer to LSU where he could reunite with his friends.
But when Graff heard that a highly-touted wide receiver from John Ehret High School he routinely guarded in prep games was playing for LSU, it fueled his desire to get back into the sport.
"When I found out Chris Mitchell was playing for LSU, that kind of opened my eyes," Graff said. "I used to shut him down in high school. If he could play for LSU, then I could do it, so that kind of drove me to working out and running again."
After receiving a recommendation from Rummel head coach Jay Roth prior to the 2007 season, LSU Director of Football Operations Sam Nader found a spot for Graff, and the Tigers' newest walk-on reported to practice on the first day of school.
It didn't take long for Graff to make an impression, intercepting a pass in his first practice and displaying great tenacity.
"During the very next practice, coach Miles came up to me and told me I was working hard," Graff said. "He was glad to have a player like that on scout team now."
Although Graff didn't see the field during the Tigers' national championship season in 2007, he continued to wow the coaches with his relentless effort, but the staff also began to take notice of another strength -- his speed.
When Graff ran a blazing 4.32 second 40-yard dash in the spring of 2008, the coaches knew they had to get him on the field.
Since then he's emerged as one of the Tigers' best special teams players as he has recorded 27 tackles and a blocked punt.
Because of his hard work and dedication, Miles rewarded Graff with a scholarship following the 2008 season, and last February the senior was given even more good news when the NCAA granted him another year of eligibility due to the hardships he suffered after Hurricane Katrina.
Graff has once again been a force on special teams this season, but he's also proven to be valuable in other facets of the program. Following the special teams segment of practice, he replaces his helmet and pads with coaching attire and a playbook and helps place the scout team in the right coverage.
After he plays his final game, Graff wants to pursue a career in law enforcement, but this time around he's not completely letting go of the sport he loves.
"I want to do Pro Day," Graff said. "I know it's a long shot (making an NFL roster), but a lot of people said I couldn't make it at LSU so why not give it a shot? Not everyone gets to say they got to run in front of 32 NFL scouts. I have nothing to lose, and everything to gain."