His first NFL start was a doozy. Ten years ago, Ravens rookie Jay Graham rushed for 154 yards, slashing through the defense in an effort he'll never forget.
"I'd like to have done that for 10 straight games, but ... stuff happens," Graham said.
Injured in that game, he was never the same. Graham's three seasons in Baltimore were marred by ankle and knee problems, and he never lived up to the media hype.
A third-round draft pick in 1997 out of Tennessee, where he teamed with Peyton Manning, Graham spent five seasons in the pros. He retired in 2002, worked briefly as a sportswriter and returned to school for a year to complete his studies in psychology.
Getting his degree was a given, Graham said. "I would have been the only one in my family not to have graduated from college."
Now 32, he is receivers coach and recruiting coordinator at the University of Tennessee-Martin. Graham also is working toward a master's degree in sports management, with an eye toward a head coaching job.
His memories of Baltimore run the gamut, from football to fast food.
"Taking my first handoff from [quarterback] Vinny Testaverde was kind of weird," he said. "I mean, as a kid, I'd seen him play at the University of Miami."
Ravens practice left Graham too tired to explore area restaurants.
"I practically lived at the McDonald's in Pikesville," he said. "They got tired of seeing me there."
Most important, Graham said, he remembers his feelings before the 1997 opener against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
"You're sitting at your locker, ready to put on your jersey for the first time when it hits you: You've made it to the NFL," he said.
"Nobody can take that feeling away from you."
Married and the father of three, Graham says he's a happy man:
"I love my family, I have a good relationship with God and I get to go out on the grass every day and do something I love - to help young men get better at the same thing I did."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun