His football journey has taken him from Buffalo to Tennessee, to New York, New Orleans, Philadelphia, Montreal, Carolina and Montreal again.
T.J. Graham used to hate the idea of being a journeyman. He hated the uncertainty that came with signing with a new team. He hated that his standing with an always-changing cast of characters was constantly up in the air. But as his career has progressed, he’s learned to appreciate everything that’s come with it.
“The places I got to travel to, the people I got to meet, situations that helped me grow. It’s kind of unique, because you bring this (experience) together and it’s helping me grow to be something else,” Graham said on Tuesday, after the Alouettes wrapped up the second day of their mini-camp.
“You can piece all of that together: All of your success, all of your mistakes, to make it positive.”
Through six NFL stops in six years, the 5-foot-10, 188-pound receiver may not have seen everything, but he feels like he’s pretty close to it.
“I’ve been on teams where we’ve had an awful season, the coaches got fired and they changed the whole staff. I’ve been on teams that had an awesome season and then the coaches still got fired,” he said.
“I was on a team where the quarterback got punched in the face and broke his jaw. But the cool stuff is you get to experience a lot and see a bunch of places. I’ve been all around the country, in different offences, different styles of play. You get to learn about everybody.”
For clarity’s sake, Graham was a member of the 2015 New York Jets. It was the one topic that the 28-year-old didn’t really want to expand on. Other than that, he’s an open book.
Graham is one of those rare people you meet that seems like he’s living out that Andy Bernard quote from The Office (“I wish there was a way to know you’re in the good old days before you’ve actually left them”). He’s a professional athlete and he’s trying to make the most out of every opportunity he gets.
“I’ve caught passes from Vince Young, Matt Leinart, Drew Brees, Michael Vick, Russell Wilson, Mike Glennon. That’s cool stuff,” he said.
He grew up in Raleigh, North Carolina, blessed with the genes of parents that were both sprinters. Like his sister, he could have followed their path into racing, but football grabbed ahold of him and wouldn’t let him go. After a shot with his home-state Panthers fell through last fall, Graham returned to Montreal to finish out the Alouettes’ difficult season. He’s hoping this stop in his career can be a long one.
Through the first two days in camp, he’s had some nice plays and shown the speed that’s opened up so many doors for him over the last six years. He knows that what will really matter for him and for Head Coach Mike Sherman, is that he’ll be able to make those plays when he’s got pads on and the game is live.
“All of that moving around, that journey that I took part in is going to come full circle soon and I’m going to put it together and make something of it. This is that time and this is the place.”
T.J. Graham on his nomadic career
“I’m trying to establish myself. I’ve been kind of up in the air, my career has been all over the place and I’m trying to establish myself in one spot,” he said. “All of that moving around, that journey that I took part in is going to come full circle soon and I’m going to put it together and make something of it. This is that time and this is the place.”
When the time is up and he looks to a future beyond football, Graham has a few ideas about what will come next. From the time he was a little kid in Raleigh, North Carolina, he loved figuring out how the things around him worked.
“I was always taking stuff apart. I’d take clocks apart and put them back together. I’d always take my remote control cars apart and put them back together. One time I took a remote control car apart and made it into a boat. Stuff like that,” he said.
The wheels in that curious mind are always turning. He sometimes wanders down the aisles of a Lowe’s store, looking at tools, thinking about what project he might take on next.
“I’ve been dabbling in a lot of things,” he said. “I like to call myself a modern day renaissance man. I can fix your car, fix your computer, I can build you a house, I can take care of the house, I can cook, I can clean. I can do a lot of stuff. I was an inventor. I had two patents, I let one go. I have more on the way. It’s just a matter of free time and the resources that come with that.”
Right now, he’s focused on this mini-camp, which heads into its last day on Wednesday. He wants to help fix things in Montreal and get what he’d hope is his seventh and final team back into the playoffs.
“I’m still young enough to keep playing,” he said. “I’ll keep running around until the wheels fall off.”