Michael Graham is on the run. Again.
One of the Southland's top high school running backs, he began his senior season last Saturday in a Pasadena Muir uniform. Muir is his fourth school in as many years.
The "transfer" label does not bother him, but he showed no signs of loyalty to his newest school.
"We've got to get to work on this team," said Graham, who rushed for only 35 yards in 15 carries in a 14-0 victory over Verbum Dei. "A running back can't have a great game if his line doesn't block. It was frustrating as hell for me today."
Muir Coach Michael Harrison acknowledges he has a young team, and development will take time, especially on the offensive line where all the starters are new. But it cannot be comforting for a coach trying to build unity to hear a new player openly criticize teammates.
None of this comes as a surprise, though, to those familiar with Graham's rocky past.
His talent obvious since he first carried the ball, Graham has compiled some impressive statistics. During the past three seasons, the 6-foot, 205-pound senior has accumulated 3,891 rushing yards and 52 touchdowns. Every team he has played for has been a winner.
Graham has never stayed in one place long enough to get to know teammates or classmates. After attending the eighth grade at a middle school in Duarte, he commuted to Mater Dei in Santa Ana as a freshman and for part of his sophomore year. He transferred to Huntington Beach Edison five games into his sophomore football season. He played his junior season at Covina Charter Oak.
At each stop, personality conflicts between Graham and his teammates and coaches have been commonplace.
Last season may have been his most difficult. He was a star at Charter Oak, rushing for 2,360 yards and 34 touchdowns and being selected the Southern Section Division VI player of the year, but his off-field problems never stopped. Things climaxed during the spring semester when he was expelled from school for undisclosed disciplinary reasons.
Graham and his parents, Leanzo and Lucinda, have moved again. This time they chose Pasadena and Muir, a community and school known for winning football teams and great running backs.
Muir officials needed extra time to make sure of Graham's eligibility. Principal Eddie Newman finally cleared Graham for football last Monday, putting him two weeks of practice behind the rest of his team. He said the late start did not make a difference.
"I kept myself in shape," Graham said. "I haven't lost a step. I've picked up the plays quickly, so nothing is a problem."
Whether Graham can repeat last season's performance remains to be seen, but it will not be easy because Muir plays such difficult opponents as Long Beach Poly and Los Alamitos. Many are betting Graham won't last the season if there is any adversity.
He disputes such talk, saying he has found a home. But he and his parents said that to a reporter last year when he enrolled at Charter Oak.
With his high school eligibility running out, Graham will need more than athletic talent to successfully take his game to the next level. College recruiters may be impressed with his speed, but they can only offer a scholarship if academic standards have been achieved.
And then there is the maturity factor to consider. Many established college programs might not want to take a risk on a student-athlete with little stability.