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Back on Offense, Oklahoma WR D.J. Graham is Once Again Chasing His Dreams

D.J. Graham flipped from defensive back to wide receiver in the middle of last season, finally making the move to return to his favored position.

NORMAN — D.J Graham needed a change.

Two and a half years into his Oklahoma career, the former 4-star recruit wasn’t enjoying himself.

A two-way athlete in high school, Graham spurned his heart to play cornerback in Norman.

But well into his junior year that was proceeded by transition and the arrival of Brent Venables and his defense, Graham couldn’t stifle his want to return to wide receiver any longer.

“It's something I've wanted to do after every season of my college career,” Graham said after OU’s practice Monday. “But I finally fessed up and said I can't do this no more. This is what I want to do. This has always been my dream.”

The decision to make the move in the middle of the season was tough and far from ideal.

But Graham knew if he didn’t make the change, it could be detrimental to the entire cornerback room, not just him.

“I hate that it ended up like that but I feel like my performance was diminishing every game,” he said. “I mean my heart's not in it. So I was like you know what, give somebody else the opportunity that they love the position to let them play. Let them have it…Let them have their opportunity.”

And so offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby and Venables agreed, shifting Graham back over to the other side of the ball.

As a result, Graham’s on-field contributions diminished.

He wasn’t going to crack an already tight wide receiver rotation, as he didn’t even know the offense.

His talent ensured he could’t stay out of the loop completely, however, and Graham was soon given an opportunity to help the team.

“It was a lot of scout team work,” Graham said. “It was my first time being on scout team, but it was great practice. I'm going against Brent Venables' defense.

“It was making me better as a receiver and it was just getting me back in the groove.”

The hardest thing Graham had to learn was all of the hand signals to call Lebby’s plays.

After spending all of the spring and summer learning Venables’ new defense, Graham hadn’t had time to peek over to the offense.

Getting back up to speed on the field took some time too.

“There was a lot of things that I was like, ‘okay I kind of forget about that.’” Graham said. “Or, ‘oh I forgot, I've got to get my steps back on certain routes.’ So it was good. I'm so glad that (Venables) allowed me to play on scout team to get my feet back under me.”

It was a lot at once, but Graham was able to lean on a great resource in his roommate Drake Stoops.

“He lives life like a pro on and off the field,” Graham said of Stoops. “The way he recovers, the way he gets in his playbook, even his on-field performance. The gems that he gives, the little nuggets that he always drops, who doesn't want to be around him?”

This past offseason offered Graham a reset.

Not only was he going to be able to battle for a spot amongst a young wide receiving corps after the departure of Marvin Mims, but he was reunited with a familiar face in new wide receivers coach Emmett Jones.

“I recruited D.J. out of high school as a wideout,” Jones said last week. “That joker probably has some of the strongest hands I’ve ever seen. Suction cups.”

For Jones, getting Graham up to the level this fall starts with nailing the small details.

“Just trying to get back to adjusting to playing the position,” Jones said. “… The mentality. The mindset. The thought process. My job is to simplify everything that we’re doing and make it so easy for these guys.”

Graham has responded well to Jones’ coaching, as his position coach has lived up to what he remembered of Jones from the recruiting process.

“He believed in me,” said Graham, “and it's good because he starts from the fundamentals.

“… He's not just a coach, he's a teacher.”

The switch has looked smooth to Graham’s teammates, who have now seen him battle on both sides of the ball.

“As we all know, D.J. has phenomenal hands,” wide receiver Jalil Farooq said last week. “He's a natural receiver so it wasn't hard for him to make the switch at all.”

Heading into the fall, Graham is backing himself to carve out a role on Saturday’s and once again find a way to contribute to the team.

“I believe in myself 100 percent,” he said. “Not knocking anybody else of course but we're a young group. We have a lot of talent. But I feel like I can definitely get on the field 100 percent.

“… So I was like… better late than never.”

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