CHASING THE DREAM: Wetumpka’s Graham ends pursuit with titlePublished 5:10pm Wednesday, February 19, 2014
“I looked back at the score in the third period, I saw 7-1. I was like, ‘this is my senior year, I didn’t train all this way to lose right now.’”
Wetumpka senior Marcus Graham’s glance at the scoreboard revealed his dream and legacy clinched in the strangling grip of Hewitt-Trussville’s Fred Denson. Down six points and time seeping away in the Class 6A 160-pound state quarterfinal at the Von Braun Center in Huntsville Saturday, Graham (47-1) wasn’t ready to give up, cutting the lead to 7-4.
“I called injury time,” Graham said. “I said I needed my inhaler, but really I was just trying to settle myself down. My heart was beating fast.”
On the sideline, Wetumpka wrestling coach Jeff Glass began to prepare himself for the worst.
“I was already in the spot in my head, preparing that speech that every coach does,” Glass said, ‘alright son, I know this isn’t what you wanted.’ He just came storming back.”
The senior hit a reversal and a takedown to force overtime. After erasing a daunting six-point deficit, Graham knew the moment was his.
“All that was running through my mind before they blew the whistle was nobody can stop you,” he said. “This is your moment, this period right here, this one minute, you’ve got to give it your all. You want to be in the state finals your senior year, this is what it takes. I was tired, thinking I was going to lose, I just shot. When he went down it was the best feeling in the world. Just one of those things when you realize you did it, just that feeling of knowing that I did it. Knowing that I pushed through probably the best comeback at state, 7-1 all the way and win 10-8. Probably the hardest match I’ve had this year. Unexplainable, to win like that, there’s no better feeling out there.”
When the referee lifted Graham’s arm in victory over Denson, it also lifted his cannot-be-denied mindset. He pinned Jaried Buxton of Oak Mountain in the semifinals and defeated Prattville’s Caden McWhirter by a 5-2 decision to lock up the 160-pound state championship.
Losing in the quarterfinals last year, Glass said Graham missed the will he displayed Saturday the year prior.
“I don’t think he’s any more a technical wrestler this year than he was last year,” the coach said. “Marcus was missing that mentality. Marcus had moments last year where mentally he had cracked. You’d see it. This year, he’s matured a lot, he worked a lot harder.”
Graham’s maturation from 2013 to 2014 started with his brother and Wetumpka wrestling alum, T.J. The elder Graham competed in a state finals match during his prep career, but came out on the losing end. That legacy of becoming Wetumpka’s first state champion, a plateau just out of reach for his brother, motivated him.
“Motivation was the key thing to everything because there came points in time where I wanted to stop and just give up on it,” Graham said. “But then going back and looking at it, my brother telling me I want you to do something I never did, so you need to be doing this. That started motivating me more and having everybody supporting me and telling it’ll get better, I just believed them.”
By his side the whole way, T.J. kept reminding Marcus of his hunger to reach the top.
“I’m warming up, he was like 22 mats (he had wrestled on this season) you’re not going to lose on six,” Graham said. “He was like you’re the best wrestler in the gym, nobody can stop you. It started getting in my mind, nobody’s going to be able to stop me.”
As his finals match versus McWhirter got underway, the senior grappler remembered a piece of paper where Glass had the whole team write down their goals.
“It was supposed to keep you calm,” Graham said. “On the back of it, I wrote that I wrestle 110 percent, non-stop through every match. My goal wasn’t to be the best wrestler in the gym, my goal wasn’t to pin everybody, major (decision) everybody. My goal was to just plain and simply win. No matter what it took I was going to do what it took to win.”
Graham glanced back up at the scoreboard after his 5-2 decision state championship victory, and he smiled. The dream, the 22 mats, the blood, sweat, tears and the support from his coach, team and family painted a fulfilled legacy.
“He said I almost kissed him,” Glass said laughing. “I may have, I was just excited. I just told him I loved him and I was proud of him. Ain’t much else I could say.”
“I remember him walking up the stands, he hugged me and I told I couldn’t have did it with anybody else,” Graham said of what he told Glass. “You helped me get here. I told him it was a long ride, a tough journey but I appreciated his help this whole season.”
Seeing the gold medal resting on his chest, a clear picture of a journey’s end, Graham knows he pushed harder than anyone, but also knows that others can see the same results.
“I wanted to chase something that nobody else had, something that everybody else wanted,” he said. “It just shows that I worked for what I wanted. Anybody can do what I did and go through what I did no matter how young. No matter what grade you’re in, you can do the same thing I did. You got to show that you want it and you got to show you’ll do whatever it takes to want it.”