Brandon Hernández 8 a.m., Jan. 29
Eastlake's Robert Graves has serious talent
Robert Graves has uncommon versatility on the football field. The Eastlake senior’s rare combination of size and athleticism make him one of the most intriguing prospects in the section.
“He’s got good size and he’s very physical, but he also has good athletic ability and good finesse, where he knows how to get into open spaces and he has very good hands,” said Eastlake coach John McFadden. “That’s what separates him, is his ability to adjust to a lot of different things.”
Graves is a two-way star on a third-ranked and undefeated Titans team. On defense he shuffles between tackle and end, and on offense he lines up at tight end.
“Playing tight end is more of a finesse type of thing and when you’re playing defense it’s more about attitude,” Graves said. “You have to be really mean to play on the defensive side of the ball.”
Graves said he slightly prefers tight end because of the touchdowns. But he can do what he likes best – hitting – no matter where he's lined up.
“It’s a sport where you can take your aggression out,” Graves said. “Anything that’s going on that I’m mad at, I can come out on the football field and let it all out doing something that I love to do.”
Talented on both sides of the ball, Graves is sure to find a place at a Division I program next fall. He is currently considering Nevada, Arizona State, Idaho, and Fresno State, and at the next level McFadden said Graves could play tight end, tackle or on the defensive line.
“It’s up to the coach that gets him, but the great thing about Robert is he doesn’t care. He’s a team guy. He’ll play wherever you need him,” McFadden said.
Graves played tackle on the offensive line his first two years at Eastlake, switching to tight end before his junior season. At a summer practice, Graves was playing around with the receivers before practice, when his receiving skills became apparent to his head coach.
“I was just running routes and catching the ball,” Graves said. “Coach Mac came down and I guess that was the first time he saw me – he just saw my feet and he asked me if I’d switch to tight end. I said yeah and I’ve loved it ever since.”
This season, Graves has seven catches and one touchdown, averaging 15.8 yards per catch. Also a power forward on the Titans varsity basketball team, Graves doesn’t have to look far to find a pro to model his offensive game after – Chargers tight end Antonio Gates.
“He played basketball in high school and college and is now one of the best tight ends,” Graves said about Gates. “A lot of his pass routes are where he boxes someone out and catches the ball and I just love the way he plays the game.”
Graves said his football quickness is a result of his work on the hardwood, crediting his quick feet to hoops.
“Just going up and down the court and having to move your feet – I bring it to the football field, where you don’t need as quick of feet,” Graves said.
Family plays a central role in Graves’ life off the field. That is no more evident than in his pregame ritual: Graves always texts his parents before leaving the locker room and once on the field, says a prayer in remembrance of his grandmother Madeline Holcomb, who died in 2005.
“She was like my second mom, I was always with her,” Graves said. “Every time before the game starts and we’re on the field, I take a knee and do a prayer to her no matter what’s happening.”
In his spare time, Graves enjoys hanging out with his friends and playing Madden with his favorite team, the Steelers. He says the greatest thing about his time at Eastlake growing up alongside his friends.
“Being able to grow up with my friends on the football field, the basketball court and at school, it’s amazing to see how we all grew up from when we were little. Everyone has changed,” Graves said.
McFadden said Graves has a great sense of humor and a great smile. Even Graves said he is nice – outside of the lines.
“I’m a gentle giant off the field,” Graves said. “People probably think that because of football I’m a mean person, but off the field I’m one of the nicest people you’ll meet.”
Opposing defensive backs really hope that meeting doesn’t happen on the field.
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