In August 2018, I was working my thrilling accounting job at a client in Detroit, Michigan; Detroit Police Athletic League (DPAL), whose headquarters is located at the historical grounds of what once was Tiger Stadium.

This is a phenomenal not-for-profit organization that serves the youth in the Detroit area driven by instilling “PAL Values” (leadership, respect, teamwork, responsibility, discipline, diversity, and family) through athletics and after school programs. DPAL was driven to bring the community and police department together to create a safe and supportive environment for the youth to build the foundation for a successful future; this is not your typical youth recreational athletics league. Their programs have had such a huge impact in the Detroit area for over 50 years. During my week onsite, there was a gentleman (my apologies, as his real name, escapes me) who would pop his head into the room every morning to greet us, which lead to small chit-chat.

On the third day, we would learn he was a football coach for DPAL and had been for quite some time. Knowing the Detroit area produces athletes that go on to have successful professional careers, we asked if he coached anyone we would know. He smiled and said, “Brandon Graham just won a Super Bowl.

I was no stranger to Graham at this point, but unfortunately, I only knew Graham the football player. Before being accepted into Michigan State University in 2010, I was *gulp* a big University of Michigan fan. Graham being recruited by Michigan as a five-star player out of Detroit, I had already heard the name, but could never have imagined the kind of player and person he would develop into.

Photo: Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Playing at Michigan from 2006 to 2010, Graham was right in my wheelhouse. He was one of my favorite players to watch every Saturday.

Although Michigan went through grueling seasons of 3-9 and 5-7 during 2008 and 2009, respectively, these were the years Graham put Big 10 quarterbacks on notice.

Being voted Most Valuable Player by his teammates in back-to-back years and captain for his senior year, showed the leadership, work ethic, and mentality Graham would bring wherever he went. Not to mention Big Ten Most Valuable Player, First-team All-Big Ten, and First-team All-American. Not only did his character check out, but he was also pretty darn talented.

When I turned heel and switched my loyalty to Michigan State in 2010, Graham so happened to be drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles that same year. My fandom of Graham could seamlessly continue. The Eagles traded up from their 24th spot to go get this guy. Albeit quiet, Graham kicked off his rookie campaign with two forced fumbles, three sacks, and 13 tackles before an unfortunate ACL tear in week 14 would sideline him for the remainder of the year, as well as the majority of the 2011 season. Since that injury, Graham has only missed one game; Week 17 in 2017 when Graham was intentionally held out ahead of the Super Bowl run. 21 forced fumbles, seven fumble recoveries, 59 sacks, 414 tackles, one touchdown (to clinch the NFC East in 2017), and one Super Bowl clenching turnover later, Graham has earned his status in Eagles royalty. He has been Mr. Reliable for the Eagles year-in, year-out, but little had I known, he was just as reliable in the community.

This brings us back to the discussion I had with the coach at DPAL. After mentioning Graham’s name as a former player, he did not go on to talk about his amazing collegiate career or how great his NFL career was going, rather Graham’s character and his family. Not only did Graham and his wife, Carlyne Graham, avoid being another statistic growing up in East Detroit, through all their success, they never forgot where they came from. Graham has stayed engaged with DPAL, although he is over 500 miles away in Philadelphia. Graham has held his Team Graham Football Camp in Detroit for five consecutive years leading up to 2020, which was obviously canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic. In 2020 alone, Graham donated money to DPAL to help keep programs afloat in the midst of uncertainty, while also selecting DPAL as his “My Cause, My Cleats” organization in week 13.

Photo: Philadelphia Eagles

Although Graham’s efforts in Detroit continue to make an impact, he has not forgotten about the community in his current surroundings in Philadelphia. The virus, unfortunately, hit close to home for Graham, affecting several of his family members and even taking a couple of his relatives. Instead of being down, Graham and his wife decided to do something about it.

Providing 300 meals to doctors and nurses on the front line at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, while also providing a PSA to The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia for kids on staying safe.

Graham finally got some around-the-league respect with the Pro Bowl nod, but he is one player who never seems to get their full credit. 11 years of consistently making plays along the defensive line, while being a vocal leader, shows the success and impact DPAL had on him as a youth.
To see him turn his experience into a building tool for so many youths in the Detroit and Philadelphia areas shows the character of the guy Eagles decided to take a risk on and trade up for in 2010.
On and off the field, this pick was an A+.

Feature Image: Michael Bryant/The Philadelphia Inquirer
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