By SHAUN SAVARESE
Of The Record Staff
Who wears green and gold, can bench press 300 lbs. and squat 470?
Western Harnett Eagles offensive guard and 2018 Methodist Monarch commit Connor Graham, that’s who. The 6-foot-1 senior football captain signed his letter of intent to play as a lineman for the Fayetteville private college last week. The self-described “forceful blocker” was less anxious and more relieved on Thursday, as he had been expecting the day to come since January. He toured the Ramsey Street campus earlier this year and ate with some of the players on the team.
“This is not super big for me. It’s bigger for my family and coaches,” said Graham, before he thanked them and his teammates.
Thursday was indeed a special day for the Graham family, evident when his grandfather, Edward Smith, said Connor was signing with the Division 3 football team just so he could watch him play.
Connor’s dad, Brian Graham called the signing “awesome,” saying, “He’s worked hard and we’re excited about this opportunity. It’s his passion.”
According to Mr. Graham, his all-conference son received the second-most first-place conference votes behind Sanford running back Jahmir Smith, who recently signed with Notre Dame.
His dad said Connor can play anywhere on the offensive line, but given his height, he’s a good fit for guard. This sentiment rang true with Connor’s middle school football coach Buck Womack.
“He was my center in middle school,” Mr. Womack said. “At the middle school level, the center is the most important player on the team. He sets the huddle (and) understands the blocking schemes. People say the quarterback is the leader … to me it’s the center.”
Mr. Womack coached Connor for two years, and he has nothing short of high praise for the Western Harnett football star.
“The Lord blessed me with daughters. If I ever had a son, I would want him to be like Connor,” he said. “He’s good to his family, good to his friends (and) good to his team. … His teammates followed him. He’s a good role model. … He has great family support. He’s the man he is because of (his parents) and as long as he remembers that, he will excel in life.”
Connor was right when he said Thursday was a big day for his family and coaches, evident by the way his former offensive lineman coach and current Western Harnett football head coach Blake Culbretson spoke.
“This means the hard work that we put in can send players to the next level,” he said. He called Connor a very good, fundamental offensive lineman, who comes off the ball low and plays hard.
“He works hard in the weight room and on the field,” he said.
The Eagles’ young head coach pointed to this season’s game against South Johnston, where Western Harnett ran the ball better than ever. “We ran the ball right behind him,” Mr. Culbretson said.
Connor earned high marks for his performance that game and considers himself to be a premier run blocker. He’s kept a watchful eye on Nate Solder, studying the offensive tackle for the New England Patriots. But the 6-foot-8, 319 lb. Solder is not his favorite athlete.
“LeBron James is like an idol for me,” said the high school senior, “When I picture greatness, I picture him.”
His measurables are impressive for his age; able to powerclean and incline bench press 250 and 275 lbs. respectively. The pulling guard admitted — over the years — feeling challenged by the defensive line of Lee County, but said, “Every game I had fun. I always felt like a I whooped the person across from me.”
The Methodist University Monarchs finished 2-8 in 2017, losing the first game of the year to Campbell University, 70-0, in Buies Creek.