EHS’ Jaylon Graham heading to S. Illinois - South Lake Press: Sports

eustis EHS’ Jaylon Graham heading to S. Illinois

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Posted: Thursday, February 6, 2014 6:00 am

He wasn’t forced to, but Jaylon Graham followed family tradition when it came time to pick a college to continue his football career.

The Eustis High School standout selected Southern Illinois University about two weeks ago and stuck with that choice on Feb. 5 when he signed a National Letter of Intent during a ceremony in the Eustis Media Center.

By opting for the Football Championship Subdivision (formerly NCAA Division I-AA), Graham will be following in the footsteps of his uncle, Linton Brown, who played defensive tackle for the Salukis. Brown also played for Eustis.

Primarily a linebacker at Eustis, Graham is expected to make the switch to defensive line in college. At Southern Illinois, he will be joined by Mount Dora’s Jefferson Vea, who also signed Feb. 5.

Graham said the decision to attend Southern Illinois was easy after he travelled to Carbondale, Ill., which is less than 100 miles from St. Louis and about 350 miles from Chicago.

“I loved so much about the school when I made my visit,” Graham said. “I loved what the coaches and players had to say and I felt I could make an early impact there. Plus, the academic standards there are what I was looking for and they can offer me the chance to major in business.

“Once I got there, I knew that was the right school for me.”

Graham helped the Panthers rebounded from an 0-3 start in 2013 to finish 4-6 in coach Mike Hay’s second year at the helm. He selected Southern Illinois from a list of 15 schools.

Even though he was confident that Southern Illinois was going to be his school of choice, Graham wanted to make sure and made an official visit to Rhode Island before signing.

“I didn’t want to regret my decision and making one more official visit was only way I could know,” Graham said. “I enjoyed my visit to Rhode Island and the people there were great, but I came away feeling even stronger about my decision to sign with Southern Illinois. I’m happy with my choice and I’m relieved the whole process is over. It really was a burden, trying to make sure I made the right choice.

“Being recruited is not as glamorous as people think.”

Hay said Graham is the type of student-athlete a coach wants in a program. He said Graham’s enthusiasm on the field is infectious and his teammates were able to feed off him.

Graham sports a 3.12 grade point average and also is a standout on the Panthers’ basketball team, averaging 10 points and four rebounds a game. He will be on the floor Friday when Eustis plays Mount Dora for the Class 5A-District 13 championship.

“Jaylon is a big kid — 6-foot-3 and 240 pounds — but he’s very mobile,” Hay said. “Of course, you have to be mo bile to play linebacker. When he moves to defensive line and puts on some weight, I think he’ll keep some of that mobility, which will help him.

“He has the chance to be a very good football player.”

Hay considers Graham’s signing to be a great sign for the football program. He said it shows the underclassmen that hard work will pay off in the long run.

One of his goals, Hay said, is to find at least one school for every senior on his team. He hasn’t accomplished that, yet, but Graham is the fourth player to sign a National Letter of Intent since he took over as coach.

“I want to provide my players with motivation to be the best, so I’ve promised them that if they work hard on the field and in classroom, I will do everything in my power to find them a college,” Hay said. “It’s not easy, but I believe we can achieve that and when Jaylon’s teammates can watch him sign a letter to attend college, they see that it’s possible.

“It’s the ultimate motivational tool.”

For now, however, Hay has an equaling daunting task. He has to find a replacement for Graham, who was an All-District first teamer and had nearly 200 tackles in his final two seasons.

In addition, Graham had 16 sacks as a junior and senior, along with eight forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries.

“It’s a pleasure to see good things happen to players like Jaylon because they deserve it,” Hay said. “It makes things tougher for us, but it’s a very proud moment for the Eustis High School football team. One of our play ers is moving on to the next level.”

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