So what sets Graham Harrell apart?
You don't want to hear this, Red Raider Nation, but in many ways your quarterback is a clone. Kliff Kingsbury is B.J. Symons is Sonny Cumbie is Cody Hodges is ... Harrell. Sure, Harrell's numbers are bigger, but up until a few weeks he was just another Texas Tech quarterback. Darn close to the s-word -- a system quarterback.
Then he threw the pass, which has become the signature play of the 2008 season. Michael Crabtree made that incredible catch and run to beat Texas on Nov. 1. Nineteen days ago, Harrell's life -- and Texas Tech football -- changed. Tech beat No. 1 Texas and became a player for the national championship.
The laid-back kid from Ennis, Texas, suddenly had to clear out his text messages two or three times a day. Hey, the cellie held only 180.
|With Graham Harrell at the helm, Texas Tech's title aspirations have been -- you guessed it -- looking up. (Getty Images)|
"He was kind of complaining he couldn't even go out to eat," said Harrell's father, Sam. "I told him to think about the alternative. You could be 5-4, and nobody cares what you're doing if you're 5-4."
As a 10-year-old, he used to worship Joe Montana. The adult Graham is suddenly the subject of adoration from today's kids.
And from more than a few coaches.
"He can virtually go back there blindfolded and point to where their people are going to be," said Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops, whose No. 5 Sooners will play host to the No. 2 Red Raiders on Saturday.
In a league with perhaps the most college quarterback talent ever, Harrell is at the top of the heap. It has all come upon him, and us, so fast that it's hard to figure out Harrell. He is 273 yards away from becoming the NCAA's No. 2 career passer, and seven touchdown passes away from breaking Colt Brennan's career record (131).
But we haven't heard from him for 10 days. For all his fun-loving ways, coach Mike Leach practically smothers his star players. Three years ago the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reduced its Texas Tech coverage because of Leach's restrictive media access policies.
The paper is back, and we all have our noses pressed up against the window, unable to quite crack the code on this program at the end of the earth and on the brink of greatness.
Harrell could become something that his hero Montana never was, an All-American. That's why it's odd that the quarterback who wasn't allowed to attend the Big 12 preseason media days is the Heisman leader at the moment. The last time the media had access to him was a conference call on Nov. 10.
Harrell can vote, get married, buy a house and go to war, but he can't talk to members of the media who could elect him. That's a heck of a way to run a Heisman campaign.
You know what? No one outside of this profession cares.
"I think he feels that winning football games is going to make him a lot more popular than keeping his players in the media," Harrell said of his coach.
So what does set Graham Harrell apart? There are Texas-born quarterbacks thriving all over the country. Their proliferation is one of the biggest stories of 2008.
"They were all good, all had their strengths," Sam, also Graham's high school coach, said of Texas Tech's string of quarterbacks. "I don't know."
Well, actually, he does. It just takes a while to dig down to the story. Sam Harrell has proudly proclaimed that his son has never had his hands under a center's butt. Before you go running for the phone number of child services, understand that means Harrell has spent his career in the shotgun, running the spread option. At age 23, he is an old hand at an offense that is still in the process of sweeping the country.
"He's just thrown a lot of balls during the years," Sam said. "He's just a good fit there. It's a throwing-out-of-the-gun mentality. The others did, too, but Graham has always been accurate."
Having completed 71.7 percent of his passes, Harrell is chasing his own school record of 71.8 set last season.
We also know that Texas Tech wasn't Graham's first choice. He had decided on Georgia coming out of Ennis High School.
It was one of those things where Georgia was recruiting three quarterbacks and the first two to commit were in. When he couldn't get through to the Georgia coach who recruited him, Harrell shrugged and figured it was a sign. That Georgia coach finally called the next day and said the position was full.
Harrell's next call was to Mike Leach.
"I think he really loved Georgia," brother Clark said. "I can't imagine now him being in that offense. I think he'd be happy, but I think what he's doing now is what he loves."
Who wouldn't? Leach allows Harrell to express himself in a backyard kind of way. Deep down it's what every quarterback wants to do.
"It's a cool experience to get to throw the ball 50 times a game," Graham said.
Yeah, but plenty of guys throw for plenty of yards. Last season, Harrell became the third Tech quarterback to throw for 5,000. Up until now, Leach's average Tech team has finished 8-4. That was fine for everyone in Lubbock. The difference this season had to come from somewhere.
Ah, now we get to see another small piece of Harrell.
"The only thing that makes him upset is losing," said Clark, two years younger than his brother and a quarterback himself at Abilene Christian. "The only time growing up that he'd get mad and would start fights was we'd be playing something and be losing.
"Every time we started a game, there was a fight between me and him."
Did baby brother ever win?
"He'll tell you no," Clark said, "but I got him a few times."
Maybe that explains the imaginary force field that surrounds Graham Harrell. It's annoying to watch and probably more frustrating to play against. But the quarterback does get upset when its perimeter is breached.
Pay attention. Harrell will not hesitate to complain to an official. Anything resembling a late hit or a head shot, he will be in an official's grill. It might look like you can break his concentration, but you're also going to pay.
"He's vocal out there and he's going to tell you how he feels," Clark said. "People who don't know him really well say he's cocky, he's a jerk. I've seen him talk trash on the field. He's always griping. It's just his passion.
"He's always getting on the refs, thinking he was cheap-shotted. Off the field he's humble. It's so different off the field. When he steps between the lines, he's a different animal."
Animal? That's not the way Sam Harrell remembers it. Sure, his sons fought at times -- a third, Zac, coaches in Denton, Texas -- but Graham had a cerebral side to him.
"They're all competitive," Sam said. "There was probably one thing that set Graham apart at an early age. All of them hung around the field house some; Graham hung around it more. He just always was around whatever I was doing. He'd watch video with us when he was a little dude. That's one thing a little bit different.
"When he was in fifth and sixth grade, he probably didn't understand. By the time he was in seventh and eighth, he had watched so much, he knew. Not many seventh-graders knew what cover two or cover three was, but he knew."
About a month ago, the Harrells were cleaning out their house, getting ready for a move. They came across an old Joe Montana poster of Graham's. Still attached at the bottom was a label: "The next Joe Montana/Graham Harrell."
Ten-year-old Graham had gone up to the high school one day and borrowed a label maker. So this kid knew he was going to be great, or was he just your average kid dreaming of greatness?
Let's go back to the night of Nov. 1. Sam was there in the stands. He wasn't the least bit surprised that his son threw a dangerous 28-yard pass into double coverage to Crabtree's wrong shoulder. Neither was Clark.
At a time when a field goal would have been fine late in the game against Texas, we finally found out what sets Graham Harrell apart.
The blindfolded accuracy, the backyard bravado, the force field all came together for a game-changing -- no, life-changing -- event. Texas Tech won on the last offensive play of the game 39-33.
Clark was eating outside the team bus after a game in Kingsville, Texas, at the time. He and teammates were keeping track of the game via cell phone and radios. Clark never saw the game-winning pass live. He didn't have to.
"I've seen him do it so many times in college and high school," he said. "Then when he made the throw it didn't surprise me. ... I've almost seen it before."
Yeah, from the guy on the poster on a 10-year-old's wall.