If you’re fortunate, you will go through a moment in life where even words can’t describe. With all due respect to Noah or Webster or whoever wrote all those dictionaries, who were they to tell us how we feel?
Perhaps this is the case with 2019 HIES grad Graham Collins, who, on one January night in Indianapolis, stood on a football field, holding the coveted National Championship trophy after Georgia knocked off Alabama 33-18 to win the crown, a player who made the University of Georgia team as a walk-on in this his junior year, a year he’ll never forget.
“I grew up a Georgia fan,” Graham said. “I’d never been to a national championship game at all. And now, to get to be at one as a player, and to be playing for my favorite team, and being a part of the winning team, it’s hard to describe. It was just an amazing experience.”
Still, there he was. Celebrating. Screaming fans pouring onto the field. Media everywhere. Hugs, tears, pandemonium.
“I remember seeing the confetti coming down from the roof when the game ended,” he said. “I just wanted a picture with the trophy, and to stay out there as long as my teammates were. Eventually, however, we were forced to leave, otherwise we’d have stayed out there. Wow…just wow.”
Looking back, Graham was an All-Region football star at HI and a starter on the lacrosse team as well. Unfortunately, the Division I collegiate offers didn’t come as far as football, so he spent his first year at North Georgia College. In the meantime, though, he stayed fit – lifted, ate right, trained – and bided his time because it was playing on the gridiron that ate away at him. And he wanted another shot.
“I transferred into Georgia as a sophomore and tried out for the team my second semester,” he said.
As for the tryouts, the odds were heavily against him. Thirty tried out, eight of those were kept. Then three of those eight were cut, leaving only the five who made it. During this, he could’ve been released any day, any time, any practice. It wasn’t until G-Day, in April, when our star alum and Georgia Bulldog fan was told he’d made the team as one of the linebackers.
During the regular season, he saw some action, while also putting in the work that all Division I athletes do, contributed some on the field and in many ways off. That is, after all, what good teammates do.
It paid off, and then some. And as Stevie Nicks once sang, “the feeling remains even after the glitter fades.”
“It’s surreal,” he said. “I’d never been a part of anything nationwide before. At Holy Innocents’, we had good teams, but I was never part of even a region championship. And now – to be a national champ – and to get to hold a trophy that every college football fan in the world knows about.”
The game ending moment, for the record, is framed in time. Graham – holding the trophy – smiling, laughing, exuberant, buoyant, a mood as elevated as high as where the confetti just came from.
Eventually, on that night in Indianapolis, he did have to walk off that field. He was surrounded by – well – everything. Teammates. Champions. A positive, explosive crowd. Adulation. Congratulations. TV cameras.
In moving on, he has another year to go, maybe more if he wants to use up all his eligibility. Regardless of how it turns out, it’s a case of a young man who trained to play football, made his favorite team, played any and every role asked, and did what he had to do.
And if words can’t quite describe it, maybe the picture itself will have to do. It’s all there – the reward, the payoff, the top prize, the knowing that it was and is all worth it. Maybe again, even the picture doesn’t even say the whole picture.
After all, perhaps Noah and Webster did help out after all, with just three of their many words.
– Dunn Neugebauer