Bulletin To Skeptics: Pat Graham Can Play

The arm was so sore he couldn't throw a pass Tuesday and Wednesday. Then, on Thursday, came a call from the attendance office that a coach from Notre Dame had phoned asking for a transcript and would be at the Kingdome Saturday to see him play.

"It wasn't that I wanted to show anyone what I could do," said Pat Graham of tiny DeSales High School in Walla Walla. "I wanted to show everybody what our offense could do."

The kid who had thrown for more yards and touchdowns than Mark Rypien, Billy Joe Hobert, Chris Chandler, Cary Conklin, Drew Bledsoe, and any number of great quarterbacks in this state's uncanny prep football history, dropped back to throw his first one in the Kingbowl yesterday.

The pass was intercepted.

He missed four of his first five and took a vicious beating on a sack. At halftime, his unbeaten DeSales team was behind Rainier 16-8 in the Class B-11 title game.

There were reasons the University of Washington hadn't done any serious scouting of him. Quarterbacks at the Class B-11 level don't see zone defenses, or pass rushers who look like Steve Emtman. Sure, Graham had thrown for 4,023 yards this year - nearly doubling the state's second-best total of 2,419 this season by Darren Erath of Puyallup - but he was only 6 feet 1, 175 pounds, and those he played against were smaller yet.

His school has 82 students, half of them girls.

"We brought in a quarterback from Class A once," said Dick Baird, the UW recruiting coordinator, "and playing at this level blew his mind. It completely overwhelmed him."

Graham knew they were skeptical, both by their absence and tepid interest. Idaho and Eastern Washington said they would like him to make a recruiting visit, Illinois made some inquiries, but Washington and WSU were looking for those with the size and reputations of Damon Huard and Drew Bledsoe.

"I was trying so hard in the first half to make something happen, that I was pressing. I had tunnel vision," Graham said. "In the second half, I got some confidence and the rest of the team did, too."

You see some remarkable performances at any level, from Pop Warner to pro. Yesterday was one of them. In the third quarter, Graham completed 11 of 12 passes for 263 yards and three touchdowns. In one quarter. Indeed, in three possessions.

He threw long, he threw short, he threw to the sidelines, he threw up the middle, he avoided the rush, he ran the option, and he ran and passed for two-point conversions.

"The best," he said, "was that we won."

DeSales, with only 18 minutes of ball possession to 30 for the Mountaineer wishbone, won 46-16.

When it was over, his performance - 20 of 31 completions for 387 yards and four touchdowns - was one of the best in Kingbowl history. It ranks up there with the running of Mike Vindivich of Mount Tahoma in 1979, the passing of Hobert in 1987, and the receiving and kick returning of Paul Skansi of Peninsula in 1978.

All in all, it was probably the strongest performance by a Class B player since lineman Pat Kramer of Colton won the first Kingbowl player-of-the day award in 1977. Kramer went on to play four years for Notre Dame.

What will happen to Graham?

"He's a terrific baseball player," said his coach, Kim Cox. "But he could play football, too."

For one thing, there is no way he would be overwhelmed by the college passing game. Cox got help from Mike Price at WSU in installing the offense used by Dennis Erickson at WSU and now Miami.

Rainier threw zone coverage on the outside receivers yesterday, only the second time DeSales had seen anything but man-to-man all year. It confused the receivers.

In the second half, however, the receivers got between the zones, and the emphasis was throwing down the middle. Graham was splendid at surveying the field and picking the appropriate receiver.

"He's accurate at any distance," Cox said. "College coaches ask for film and then want to see others because they can't believe he can consistently be that accurate.

"Well, he is."

Well, he completed 65 percent of his passes this season and threw for 52 touchdowns while being intercepted only 13 times.

Graham grew up in the same town with Drew Bledsoe. He said he never thought about playing at Class AAA Walla Walla High to gain more exposure and credibility.

"Never crossed my mind, still hasn't," he said. "DeSales is like home to me. I love it. It's going to be so hard to leave."

Because of the great line of quarterbacks the state of Washington has produced in the past 20 years - 10 of whom have played in the NFL - little Pat Graham from little DeSales High might never get his due.

But does it matter? No quarterback in this state has ever passed for as many yards or touchdowns. His marks are so astounding, they might last into the next century. They can't take those from him.

He might not follow Bledsoe at WSU. He might not even play big-time college football. But he's still a great high-school football player. You can win the Heisman Trophy in college and get cut by the pros without being any the less for it.

"It doesn't matter what level you play at or who sees you play," said Graham yesterday in the warm reflection of his finest hour. "If you've got the talent, someone will find you. They will know you can play."

Pat Graham can play.

Blaine Newnham's column usually is published Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday in the Sports section of The Times.