Tulane linebacker Lawrence Graham ready to take another big step in 2019

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Lawrence Graham
(Photo: Parker Waters)

Florida native totaled a career-high 61 tackles as a junior

NEW ORLEANS – Unfulfilled. That’s the word Lawrence Graham uses to describe his junior season.

Unfulfilled personally because he knows he can become a better leader on the team and play at a higher level.

Unfulfilled for the team as a whole because – despite Tulane making its first bowl game in five years – he knows the way the Green Wave played down the stretch proved they were capable of more.

“Our goal at the beginning of the season to win a bowl game, that got fulfilled,” Graham said. “But toward the end we started seeing, ‘OK, we can do something better than this. Better than a bowl game. Win a conference championship.’ And I feel like we kind of let off the gas because we were getting too close to our original goal. We didn’t reach our full potential.”

A rising senior out of Lauderhill, Florida, Graham had one of the biggest improvements of any football player on the roster in his junior year. He went from 13 combined tackles as a freshman and sophomore to a whopping 61 in his junior season. Graham played in all 13 games, started seven, posted eight tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks and an interception in 2018 and finished as the Green Wave’s fourth-best tackler.

But that’s still not enough.

Graham says the numbers don’t matter to him nearly as much as his effort and leadership. And those things, he knows, can still get better.

His best play of the 2018 campaign, according to him, was not a sack or a bone-crunching open-field tackle. It wasn’t his interception that set up the game-tying drive in the fourth quarter against Wake Forest.

His biggest play of the season was a tackle that didn’t even officially count as a tackle. With Tulane leading USF in the fourth quarter in Tampa, the Bulls scored a touchdown to cut the Green Wave’s lead to 34-15 with less than 10 minutes to go. USF went for the 2-point conversion, and Graham sniffed out the play.

Starting on the left side of the defense, he hustled to make a tackle when USF tried a shovel pass to the defense’s right. He ran all the way from one side of the defensive line to the other, beating the USF running back to the goal line and snuffing out the Bulls’ faint comeback hopes. Officially, the play just goes down as “pass attempt failed.”

“I looked like a pure athlete on that play,” Graham said. “I feel like I can do that every play. I tell myself this season to be that player on every play.”

Graham had another special moment in his home state last season when the Green Wave traveled to Orlando for the Cure Bowl. The game was played at Camping World Stadium, also home to the Florida high school state championships. Graham lost two consecutive title games on that field with Delray Beach American Heritage, and December’s big victory in front of 10 family members helped erase those tough high school memories.

“To get a ‘W’ in that stadium, it just made me feel so much better,” Graham said, laughing. “I don’t feel like as much of a loser anymore.”

He wants to focus more on becoming a leader as a senior, something he learned from Zachery Harris, Tulane’s leading tackler last season and an All-Conference Second Team player. He’ll have help from junior linebacker Marvin Moody, a person Graham describes as “my brother from Day 1.”

Graham and Moody plan to ignore the stats and concentrate on what matters: Winning and reaching their full potential. Before spring practice began, linebackers coach Michael Mutz sat the two of them down and said he needs them to become the team’s next leaders. Become what Harris was to the team in recent years and take that step forward.

Harris made it four consecutive years with at least one Green Wave linebacker on The American’s All-Conference teams. Harris, Rae Juan Marbley (2017) and Nico Marley (2016, 2015) have set the example for what Graham and Moody hope to accomplish this year.

Sure, that’s a lot of pressure. But Graham is ready for it.

“Pressure busts pipes, but it also makes diamonds,” Graham said. “I honestly believe you might have a couple all-conference players in this linebacking corps this year.”

Tulane Completes Day Eight of Camp
The Green Wave returned to the field for the first time since Tuesday and concluded their eighth day of spring practice on Friday. The team practiced in helmets inside Yulman Stadium.

Tulane’s eighth practice of the spring saw the team continue to work with its special teams’ unit where it focused on extra point field goal, extra point block, kickoff return, punt return and punt block units.

As the team reached the midway point of spring practice, head coach Willie Fritz has been pleased with the team’s progress so far.

“We just have to keep the guys locked in and focused,” Fritz said. “We just can’t get ahead of ourselves. We have a lot of practices to where we can get better, so we have to keep it up.”

Fritz also has been pleased with the variety of looks that the team’s new offense has provided throughout spring camp.

“We are doing a lot of different things with varying snap counts, using a lot of different personnel, a lot of motions and shifts and I really like where we are at right now,” Fritz said.

Tulane will look to utilize each of its returning running backs from a year ago in the passing game in this year’s offensive attack.

“We have a lot of running backs that can really catch the ball well, so we are going to use them in the pass game and split them out wide,” Fritz said.

Fritz also praised the play of junior wide receiver Jaetavian Toles.

“He’s had a great spring practice,” Fritz said. “He’s gotten a lot better. He’s a guy in high school, who played both ways even though he played at a big high school in Texas. He’s learning every day and he’s really a competitive guy.”

Tulane’s spring practice continues Saturday and concludes Saturday, April 13 with the annual spring game at Yulman Stadium.

Tulane opens the 2019 season on Thursday, August 29 at home against FIU with kickoff scheduled for 7 p.m.

For season ticket information, please call 504-861-WAVE (9283), log on to TulaneTix.com or visit the ticket office at the James W. Wilson Jr. Center.

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