WILLIAMSBURG ——Michael Graham might lack experience, but not awareness. William and Mary's new starting quarterback understands what's expected of someone in his position, particularly given the program and the men for whom he plays.
Tribe head coach Jimmye Laycock is a proven developer of quarterbacks. The man who coaches the position, David Corley Jr., has a championship ring and is all over the W&M record book.
Graham, a 6-foot-4, 220-pound self-described "regular guy," has made the most of his recent promotion from No. 3 to starter.
The redshirt sophomore from Charlottesville provided a second-half spark that helped the Tribe to a tougher-than-expected win against Division II New Haven two weeks ago. Awarded the starting role last week against James Madison, he ably, if not spectacularly, directed the offense in a 20-14 loss.
Laycock talked afterward about how Graham made most of the proper reads and threw the ball when and where needed. That was especially true in the second half, as Graham completed 12 of 18 passes for 204 yards and two touchdowns — aided greatly by his receivers making plays against man-to-man coverage.
"He handled himself very well, he made good decisions," Laycock said. "You kind of want to see what a guy does when he makes a mistake, whether he realizes he made a mistake or whether he's making excuses for it or he learns from it. I think Mike has shown that he learns from it."
Graham received the opportunity to play after early season starter Mike Paulus and backup Brent Caprio were unable to complete passes and move the offense consistently. He is the starter until further notice.
"I want to do whatever's best for the team," Graham said, "but I know when Tom Brady got his shot in college, he worked way harder once he got the starter's job than when he was a backup trying to get the job. You don't want to lose it because you're not working hard enough. You have to push that much more."
Graham said that as recently as the end of summer camp he didn't expect to play a great deal this season. He hadn't played a game in three years, and Paulus was fairly productive last season before suffering a shoulder injury that shelved him at the end of the year.
But Graham also was well aware that injuries forced the Tribe to play four quarterbacks at various times last season. Being No. 3 meant being ready, just in case.
"When the opportunity comes," he said, "you've got to take advantage."
Graham was a recruited walk-on from Monticello High, the same school that produced current Liberty quarterback and reigning Big South Offensive Player of the Year Mike Brown. His teams won a Division 3 state title as a junior and made the state semifinals as a senior.
Corley recruited Graham, watching him play as a senior, and was impressed by his effectiveness and his winning track record.
"He's a guy that found a way to get things done," Corley said. "The same as you see out there now. A guy that when he got out there, he found a way to move his team down the field. It wasn't always perfect. Just like Saturday, it might not be how you draw it up on the board, but he got it done."
Getting it done Saturday included a 99-yard touchdown drive, a possession that featured three big pass plays — the last a 38-yard connection with wide receiver D.J. Mangas, who outfought JMU cornerback Leavander Jones, kept his feet and raced into the end zone.
It also included a late touchdown drive with two third-down conversions and a fourth-down conversion, pulling the Tribe within 20-14 and forcing JMU to recover an onside kick to preserve the win.
"You can see it in him every day," Mangas said. "His confidence rises every day. Redshirt sophomore, doesn't have much game experience, he'd never started. You can't really ask for much more than what he did last weekend. Very impressive."
By all accounts, Graham included, his demeanor hasn't changed since he was named the starter before the JMU game. He watches more video and devotes a bit more time to preparation. He is more comfortable exchanging information with Laycock and Corley. He is working to become more vocal and assertive, not easy in a huddle with upperclassmen and playmakers.
The benefit to that is he knows it's not on his shoulders to carry the offense or win games on his own.
"I just try to make the play," Graham said. "Not the big play, but the right play. Whether that means just handing the ball off and carrying out the fake, or throwing the deep post. Whatever it comes down to, I just try to make the play on that play, and then everything else will take care of itself."