By Jeanne Sager
STORRS, CT October 4, 2002 Nick Graby is living his dreams.
When he was in seventh grade, the Class of 1999 Delaware Valley Central School (DV) graduate told his mom and dad, Marie and Bill, that one day hed be playing Division I college football.
It didnt sound like such an off-the-wall thing. After all, Grabys family has always been athletic.
Bill left Delaware Valley in 1972 as a football star headed to bigger and better things. He played for a junior college in Kansas, then was recruited to play for the University of Marylands powerhouse team.
And Nicks sister, Marissa, grabbed a scholarship to Penn State University for her basketball skills, even joining the team in a national championship run her senior year.
Now Nick is following the family tradition. Hes an offensive guard on the University of Connecticut (UConn) football team with two more years of eligibility remaining.
Its a dream come true for a kid from Hankins
My father was my biggest inspiration, Graby noted. I felt I just had to make him proud.
And at 64, 295 lbs., the 21-year-old with bright blue eyes and an easy grin looks at home on the field. But he cant pin down just why he likes it.
I never thought about it, he noted. I guess the sense of accomplishment, the camaraderie of a team, the challenge of it.
Because Im good at it, he added with a laugh. Its just something Ive always wanted its been my dream for my whole life.
Graby started his football career on the fields of his dads farm in Hankins playing pick-up games with his elementary school buddies the kind where theyd get covered in mud then pile into the house in a fit of giggles for a mug of hot chocolate.
He joined the modified football team at DV in seventh grade, playing track and basketball to round out the year.
But by the end of his first athletic year, Graby knew he didnt want to focus on basketball, track or any of the other sports at his school. Football was his dream, and when he wasnt working for Bill at the family farm, he was working on ways to improve his game.
By Nicks freshman year, he was quickly moved up to the varsity team where Coach Ron Bauer began focusing his attentions on rounding out Grabys abilities.
I loved playing ball at DV, Graby recalled. (Coach) Bauer is a great guy he really cares about his kids.
Youll never find a guy who cares like he does. I loved playing for him.
Despite a battle with mononucleosis his senior year at DV, Graby was a member of a team that was at times ranked first in the state, and he earned himself a trip to the Governors Bowl an annual game where the best high school players from New York battle their New Jersey counterparts for his outstanding defense. Graby was named first team tri-county and first team all-state and heavily recruited by some large colleges for his talent.
When it came time to pick a school, Graby went with Lackawanna Junior College in Pennsylvania, a football factory suggested by the coaches at West Virginia University, who hoped he would one day play for their team.
Lackawanna JC gave Graby the opportunity to improve his grades in order to meet all NCAA regulations and improve his game, and while he was there he earned a first team defensive line all-conference accolade for his efforts.
When Graby graduated from the two-year school, the head coach of the UConn Huskies came calling with offer of a scholarship to fund his education if hed join their team (a change in coaching had taken place at West Virginia since Graby began talks with the school).
Graby was attracted by UConns rural campus. After all hes a country boy at heart, and he saw an opportunity to put in some playing time at a well-known school.
Plus, he added, he felt he needed to take advantage of the scholarship opportunity to help his parents out.
The people here are great, and the coaches are all good, he explained. The area is beautiful its a nice place to be.
The advantage to the Connecticut campus, Graby noted, is that its similar to the place where he grew up. He can leave campus and find himself in a country setting within minutes.
The team, he added, is close-knit, and during the past year-and-a-half, hes developed strong friendships both on and off the field.
Last year was Grabys first year on the Husky team, but he was red-shirted to extend his eligibility time. However, between classes and friends, Graby still devoted close to 30 hours a week to the football program sitting down with the trainers to work through problems with his knees and develop his skills.
Playing for a Division I football program is like another world, he said.
The commitment level is much higher by far, Graby explained. The time you have to put into D-1 football, I never imagined, and the speed at this level is just incredible.
And the resources available at the college level are a huge change, he added. While playing for a high school team, students often have to supply their own equipment and make do with what a small district can provide.
But at UConn, his equipment is always taken care of and its top-of- the-line. And the medical staff as well as the coaches are all top-notch, he added.
Even with little injuries they try to do the best they can to keep you playing up to your potential, he explained. Its definitely impressive.
The biggest challenge yet has been making a switch from the defensive line a position hes played since he first trotted out on the field to play for the DV Eagles to offensive guard.
Graby practiced with the defense all last season, but when he returned to practice this year the coaches moved him to offense to capitalize on other talents.
Its been like teaching an old dog new tricks, he explained.
When I was in junior college, I played just defense, he noted. When I came here, I played defense there are so many plays I have to learn, its a definite challenge.
But one Grabys sure hes up to. If not to prove to himself that he can keep up with the other boys in the league, but as a way to prove to his parents and old coaches that their support paid off.
I want to make everyone who has stood by me proud, he noted. I just want to continue living out my dream.
And if that dream means spending 30 hours a week on the field in the weight room or in hotels traveling to games around the country, than thats what he has to do. Between school work (hes majoring in human development and family studies), friends and football, Graby barely has time to sleep.
But he wants to keep this going for next two years.
It doesnt seem like a burden, he noted. It just seems like the thing to do its what Ive always wanted.
Graby doesnt know whats next just yet. Hes got this year and next year to play football and finish out his studies and then, who knows where football will take him.
Im looking at this next week, he noted. Im not looking farther than that.
If it comes, it comes, and Ill worry about that when it happens.