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Football journey: Shayne Graham

1/1/2011

Now in his 10th NFL season, kicker Shayne Graham is wearing his seventh different uniform. That alone gives him a unique perspective.

The 32-year-old Graham never could have imagined he would be a Patriot this season. But when Stephen Gostkowski sustained a season-ending quad injury Nov. 7 in Cleveland, he was the first name on New England's emergency list.

Graham has kicked in three games for the Patriots and he is 4-of-4 on field goals -- hitting from 31, 36, 25 and 19 yards. He is 13-of-14 on extra points. Graham also handles kickoffs, where he is considered more of a hang-time option than one to drive the ball into the end zone.

Graham, who graduated with a degree in communications from Virginia Tech and has considered a post-playing career in the sports media, shared his football journey with ESPNBoston.com:

When he first started playing organized football: “My first year was in the eighth grade in Radford, Virginia. I played every sport growing up, and soccer was my best sport. I remember one day in the fifth grade, my dad tossed me a football and said, ‘Try kicking this.’ I kind of had a knack for it and I was introduced to Pat O’Morrow, who was a record-setting kicker at Radford High who also kicked at Ohio State. He showed me what to do and I trained kicking the football after soccer practice for three years, until I played on a team in the eighth grade. It’s sort of hard to have a kicker on an eighth-grade team. I think I kicked the first extra point that the middle school had in years.”

Top memories at Pulaski County High School (Dublin, Va.): “I would say the state semifinals in 1992, kicking the game-winner. It was the first time our high school got past the state semifinal. It was special being a part of kicking a field goal and winning the state championship that year.”

Recalling the kick in the state semifinals: “Twenty-two yards off the left hash in about 40 mile-per-hour wind gusts.”

Why he chose to attend Virginia Tech: “I had offers from schools from my junior year of school on, but I thought Virginia Tech offered the best situation to play as a true freshman and compete for a national championship. Basically everything I wanted to happen there, it happened. I won the job as a freshman, played all four years, and we played for a national championship my senior year. It was everything I wanted it to be, with the exposure to hopefully propel me to the NFL.”

An "up" and a "down" at Virginia Tech: “I would say the top memory was senior year. We were undefeated, third in the country, and had just found out Penn State, the No. 2 team, had lost. We needed a team ahead of us to lose, so that was big for us, and we played West Virginia that day. It came down to a game-winning field goal, a 44-yarder off the right hash, and I made it. We went undefeated and ended up playing for the national championship. On the other side, one thing that stands out is we lost our homecoming game to Temple my junior year. But it was a situation where a negative became a positive because we learned a lesson about being complacent and pulled together for the next year and a half, right into that national championship game.”

Signing with the New Orleans Saints as an undrafted free agent in 2000: “I kind of thought I was going to get drafted. I think every kid coming out thinks that way. I went to New Orleans and wasn’t sure how everything worked in the NFL. I basically found out that I was brought in to be a camp leg -- someone there so the other kicker didn’t tire his leg out. They had a very good kicker in Doug Brien. So after training camp, I went home and stayed there the entire season. I worked in a car dealership, as a teacher, gave private kicking lessons and worked at a Gold’s Gym to pay bills and train. I also took a couple of online courses to finish my degree.”

Signing with the Seattle Seahawks in the 2001 offseason: “I was released at the end of training camp at final cuts and came home. I had a couple of workouts with a few different teams, including Buffalo, and after they had a few mishaps on the field-goal team they called me and I was on my way. I had just bought a Christmas tree to put in the house, but it just sat dormant until the end of the season. I played the final half of the season with them."

Getting waived by the Bills in the 2002 offseason: “During that offseason, Buffalo signed Mike Hollis, a longtime great at Jacksonville, to a long-term deal. So they let me go. There I was again, not knowing where I was going. I ended up back in Seattle for training camp but that didn’t work out well for me either. I got picked up in Week 4 by the Carolina Panthers, and their special teams coach at the time was [current Patriots special teams coach] Scott O’Brien. They needed a kicker because John Kasay had a sports hernia."

Sticking with the Panthers in 2002 before being let go in 2003 training camp: “I had a couple of field goals that were blocked, which skewed the numbers on the [2002] season, but I felt like I ended up doing fairly well in Carolina. They said I’d go into [2003] camp and compete with John Kasay for the job. I thought we both did well and it basically came down to loyalty. He had been with them since the organization started and while I was disappointed, I understood. Carolina put me on waivers and the Bengals claimed me. The connection there was that the special teams coach, Darrin Simmons, had been the Panthers’ assistant special teams coach the year before. He was comfortable with me and we had a great relationship.”

Finding a permanent home in Cincinnati from 2003 to 2009 before his contract expired: “I felt like it was a great run there. I had a strong tie to the community and it was home for a long time. My worst year was my last year, at 82 percent [on field goals]. There were probably only two or three kicks, in the whole time I was there, that I wish I could have back and not count against me. I don’t think anyone’s career can go without a blemish like that, but unfortunately you’re sometimes only remembered with the bad. I felt like I was very consistent when I was there. Things didn’t work out at the end and it was hard leaving because I have a lot of friends there. Even watching the Bengals play now, those are all my boys, all guys that I am close to.”

Competing for the kicking job with Billy Cundiff in Baltimore in 2010 training camp: “It was odd for me, as I had been settled in Cincinnati. It was something I hadn’t done for seven years, but it was interesting and a fun transition to go through. I felt we both had a great camp and he just started kicking off like it was nobody’s business. I couldn’t be happier for him and hope he continues to kick well and goes to the Pro Bowl. That was a hard time, because I hadn’t been cut in a really long time. I went back home and was killing that time between games -- working out on my own, finding a field to kick on. It’s definitely a different atmosphere than kicking in front of 70,000 on Sunday. When I got the call to go to New York [with the Giants for one game Oct. 17 as an injury replacement], it gave me hope that something might happen soon. I got the call from New England and the first thing is that you never wish poorly on anyone, you never wish harm on anyone. Stephen [Gostkowski] is a great guy and we’ve gotten along great and we will continue to. I hate what happened to him [injury-wise] and he will be feeling healthy soon and will come back next year and pick up where he left off. For me, it’s taking the opportunity and doing the best you can with it.”

Initial impressions of the Patriots: “It’s been amazing to be a part of what’s going on here. We really haven’t achieved anything at this point, and there is still a lot of football to be played in the season. I look forward to that and making the best of it, winning as many games as possible and hoping to push beyond the [regular] season. It’s nice to be a part of something where you see the leadership, you see the motivation and you see the positive feelings going on around the locker room and facility.”

Summing up his football journey: “It’s been up and down, but everything I’ve experienced the whole time I’ve been a part of it, has been amazing. Even the downs. They have made me stronger, they have made me a better player and a better person. When you experience some of those you appreciate where you are now a lot more. Whether it was high school to college to not getting drafted, or playing on teams, getting cut, having misses, and starting out all over again, it’s funny how things something work out for you. Sometimes when things don’t initially work out, it can turn out to be better for you.”