Jamoral Graham experienced both highs and lows during his first season at Mississippi State last fall.
Graham graced the cover of Sports Illustrated shown celebrating with teammate Fred Brown but also drew the ire of fans for several muffed punts.
For Graham, it was all part of the learning experience as a true freshman.
“It was a big step,” Graham said. “I had to keep looking forward. Things got hard and all I could do was work towards the highest peak. I couldn’t look back. A guy like me, I couldn’t let my family down and I have to take care of them. I felt like I needed to step it up a notch so I did what I had to do and coach (Dan) Mullen put me out there.”
Graham finished his freshman campaign with five catches for 78 yards and one touchdown while returning 14 punts for 67 yards. His touchdown grab was a 44-yarder from Damian Williams on homecoming against UT Martin.
“That touchdown catch felt great at the moment,” Graham said. “I give all thanks to God. In that moment I was just so hyped that I couldn’t stop. It boosted me up a little bit. I thought about it like it wasn’t going to be the only touchdown that I’ll have.”
Touchdowns may prove harder to come by in Graham’s future. The 5-foot-10, 170-pounder was asked to move to cornerback this spring with the loss of Jamerson Love last year and both Taveze Calhoun and Will Redmond entering their final season.
“In that meeting, coach Mullen told me the (cornerback) spot is open and either I could take it or leave it,” Graham said. “He didn’t force me to do anything. He knew I played it some in high school and thought I could here if I put in the work. I told him the next day that I’d do whatever was best for the team.”
Graham, also known as “Smokey” to his teammates, has worked with the second team through the first three weeks of spring practice.
“It’s hard going from a receiver in the SEC to getting reps playing cornerback on the defensive side,” Graham said. “I think I’m doing a pretty good job right now. I just take it day-by-day and try to do my job. I feel like if I keep working hard I’ll be okay in the end.”
Graham has gone from developing a connection with Dak Prescott as a receiver to trying to figure out a way to stop the record-setting signal caller in practice.
“It ain’t easy to study Dak,” Graham said. “That guy is a hell of an athlete. If you get caught looking in the backfield, you’re done with. This is the SEC, ain’t high school and you can’t do that. It’s a big step for me. Dak’s a beast back there and you’ve got to play your game and know what’s going on. Your game plan has to be perfecto, you can’t slip.”
The Decatur native was a standout in all three phases at Newton County High School, where he was selected to play in the Alabama-Mississippi All-Star Classic, the Semper Fidelis and U.S. Army All-American bowls.
Graham was rated a four-star prospect where he completed 6-of-9 passes for 75 yards and touchdown, rushed for 421 yards and five touchdowns on 52 carries and caught seven passes for 91 yards and another score. He also made 28 tackles, three sacks, four pass break-ups and forced a fumble on defense and returned three punts for 79 yards and a score.
It did not take Graham long to catch on that he was no longer competing against high school level competition when he arrived in Starkville last summer.
“The biggest difference is the speed from high school to college,” Graham said. “Everybody here is just like you. You can’t come out here and outdo everyone. You have to work just as hard to defeat your enemy. Everybody is out here to play on Sundays.”
Graham made an early pledge to the Bulldogs during the recruiting process picking State over an offer from Southern Miss. He has no regrets about the decision he made nearly two years ago.
“I was the first commitment to Mississippi State so I feel proud,” Graham said. “These are my brothers and I love these guys. I’d do anything for them. I just feel comfortable here because I’m from Mississippi, I was born here and I’m close to my family. It’s great here and I love it.”