Eagles’ Graham knows he’s part of a special UNH group

Staff photo by TOM KING Former UNH standout Corey Graham, now an NFL 11-year veteran in his first year with the Eagles, is enjoying the limelight of his second Super Bowl.

BLOOMINGTON, Minn. – Corey Graham knows he’s part of a special group, one that’s displayed on the wall in University of New Hampshire coach Sean McDonnell’s office.

You know, former University of New Hampshire football players who have had NFL careers. But he’s also part of an even better group – former Wildcats who have played or won in the Super Bowl. Fullback Dan Kreider won a ring with the Steelers in Super Bowl XL.

“I have great memories of UNH,” said Graham, who is also joined by fellow UNH alum (2011) Dino Vasso, an Eagle defensive quality control coach. “It’s probably one of the best decisions I ever made. I wish that we would have been able to get over the hump and win a National Championship. I still talk to Coach Mac to this day. … Still the same old Coach Mac, man.”

It’s a close knit group of Wildcat alums, Graham said.

“When you’re at UNH and there’s not a lot of guys who are in the NFL, you typically know the ones who are,” Graham said. “You strive to be like those guys. I’m just happy I’m one of those guys who’s had the opportunity to be on the wall. … Obviously it’s been a dream for me from the beginning. Some guys get one year (in the NFL) and they’re out the next year. This will be my 11th year and I’m in my second Super Bowl. It’s been a blessing.”

Graham committed to the Wildcats, who recruited him out of Turner Carroll High School in Buffalo, N.Y. because of one main thing.

“The environment, man,” Graham said. “Everybody out there’s so nice, everybody would look out for each other, take care of each other. It’s like a brotherhood out there. Still to this day I probably talk to 30 or 40 of my teammates. It was a great group of guys.”

Of course, Graham has a Super Bowl ring won with the Baltimore Ravens in 2012, Super Bowl XLVII. When he was drafted in the fifth round by the Chicago Bears, they had just been to the Super Bowl (losers to the Colts).

“I was saying, ‘Man, I’m going to a great team,'” Graham said. “So you always assume you’re going to be in it. I was there five years and it took until my sixth season, in Baltimore, to get to the Super Bowl It just showed me it’s never promised.

“But it’s not just about playing in them.You’ve got to win them.”

One of the biggest games he’s had in his NFL career was the Ravens upset of the Peyton Manning led Broncos out in Denver in the AFC Divisional Round. He made two interceptions, returning one for a TD and the other set up the Ravens’ game-winning field goal in overtime.

“I was just happy,” Graham said, “to be able to make plays for my team, do my part. But I’d say to this day, that was probably the best game for me, personally.”

And his post-season heroics haven’t ended, as he intercepted Vikings QB Case Keenum in the NFC championship game two weeks ago.

“Corey Graham has been a veteran presence for us,” Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said. “He’s got some multi-dimensional skills, he can play safety, he can play corner, he can cover tight ends, he can cover wideouts. He’s a very, very consistent player, doesn’t make many mistakes, and is a great communicator. And also, him playing safety has allowed us to use Malcolm Jenkins in a lot of different roles.”

That first Super Bowl experience is much different than this one.

“You’re in awe of everything that’s going on, you get caught up in it a little bit,” Graham said. “For me, this is very, very relaxed, I’m not getting caught up in all the stuff going on. This is a very smooth ride for me.”

But he knows what some of the younger players are going through. Still, that smooth ride for Graham has existed since he signed with the Eagles in August. He had played for Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz when Schwartz ran the Buffalo Bills defense so that familiarity helped. The Bills cut him loose last March and it was a while before Graham landed.

“Obviously I didn’t want to go just anywhere,” Graham said. “I know this would be a good fit for me with Coach Schwartz. And when I came (to Philly) I already knew some of the guys but when I got to know the others who were here it was a perfect fit.”

And it’s continued being that all season.

“It’s been amazing,” Graham said. “A lot of injuries when guys go down and guys step up. A very resilient team like the one in Baltimor. Guys play fast, guys play tough. We’ve believed that we can beat anybody.”

Graham graduated from UNH in 2007, and he remembered the Patriots dynasty starting while he was there with two Super Bowl wins. That made it special to go back to New England in 2012 and beat the Patriots at Gillette in the AFC Championship Game. He hopes the Eagles can create a bump in the road for the current New England run.

“It was a very resilient team,” he said. “We didn’t back down from anybody back then. Guys went in there and fought their tails off. It’s going to be the same type of situation this weekend. Guys are going to have to go in and compete and fight their tails off.”

Graham can be easily overlooked as the team’s third safety, but that’s OK with the Eagles.

“Maybe he’s flown under the radar a little bit as far as his contributions,” Schwartz said. “But he hasn’t been overlooked by our team and our coaching staff.”

Will Graham keep his career going after this season? He’s on a one year deal with Philly and will be a free agent in March. “If we win the Super Bowl, you never know what’s going to happen,” he said. “I’ll wait until the off-season, talk to my family, see what I want to do. Right now, I’m feeling great. I’m happy to be here. It’s been a great experience.

“It’s been a good ride so far. It’s not over yet.”