Lining up at right end, his black helmet and orange face mask camouflaged by the surrounding foliage at Milton Academy, Peter Graves burst through a gap in the line and put a bear hug on the quarterback, his own teammate.
As inside linebacker Matt Morin noted, an opposing QB would not been as fortunate in a real game.
“We can’t let him do that here [in practice],” said Morin last week.
“It’s a great weapon to have in our back pockets, not a lot of quarterbacks are going to have time to get that ball off.”
The 6-foot-2, 220-pound Graves has emerged as a leader of a defensive unit that has played a pivotal role in a 5-0 start at Milton, which faces fellow unbeaten Governor’s Academy Saturday afternoon. In the last three games, in Independent School League wins over Lawrence Academy (38-20), Roxbury Latin (33-14), and St. Paul’s (51-2), the senior from Belmont has registered eight sacks, a blocked punt, and forced a fumble.
Graves played hockey his first two years at Milton before deciding to walk on to the football team last fall. He considered a position as linebacker, but felt he could make more of an immediate impact at defensive end, utilizing his speed, power, and quickness.
“I definitely knew I could make the team,” Graves said. “I didn’t know how big of a role I was going to play. Even though I was playing hockey before, I always trained hard in the weight room and it translated really well to football.”
Graves bluntly said he “wasn’t that good” at hockey, but the move to the gridiron was partially inspired by the wishes of his late grandfather Robert Preston Graves, a former offensive guard at Virginia Polytechnic Institute.
At the start of a distinguished military career, “Poppy” earned a Bronze Star for valor for keeping the Leyte airfield in the Philippines open despite repeated attacks by the enemy during World War II. He served the Army across the world for 30-plus years, retiring as a full colonel.
But the war stories he told his grandson were from the football field.
Graves’s father, Jim, moved often in his youth, as is common in military families, but he played football in Germany. Peter’s older brother, Ian, played as a senior at Noble & Greenough in Dedham.
Milton Academy coach Kevin MacDonald calls Graves a “combine wonder,” referring to the annual NFL Combine, with a bench press of more than 300 pounds and a 39-inch vertical jump. But after Graves suffered a back injury in summer strength training, MacDonald had second thoughts about his player’s potential.
“I just figured maybe he’s a lost cause,” MacDonald said. “But he’s been terrific. I was wrong about that one, thankfully.”
According to MacDonald, Boston College came close to offering a scholarship after Graves had a strong showing at its summer camp. Harvard is showing strong interest.
The coach noted that Graves has earned the respect of his peers because of his work ethic and a “motor that never stops,” despite being relatively new to the sport.
Senior captain Drew Jacobs, the Mustangs’ top offensive weapon with 1,000-plus yards rushing the past two seasons, said Graves makes his job as captain easy because of his commitment to team goals.
“The team as a whole, we’ve all got very high expectations of ourselves, [but] Graves has just been awesome,” Jacobs said. “He’s got the natural ability. He’s always working, always in the weight room. Leads by example.”
Morin, a 6-foot-1, 220-pound stalwart in the weight room, said he enjoys watching Graves use his physicality to make opposing quarterbacks uncomfortable and force them into making poor decisions.
He added that once Graves’s raw ability gets a little more polished to where he is technically sound, it’s going to be “scary” for opponents.
It’s a change that Graves feels happening with each game. He said he’s learned to use his hands more instead of pushing forward and “trying to make something happen.”
The teen’s modest long-term goals in life are to own a pickup truck and a dog, but his short-term target is a championship at the end of the year.
“That’s kind of the biggest thing for me. This is the most complete team I’ve ever been a part of in every sport. All I want is to have a championship season.”
Milton Academy’s Yoon
ready for kickoff
Justin Yoon showed up halfway through a practice session at Milton Academy last week with a three-legged kick holder in hand and quietly went to work. The junior kicker had been in South Korea to attend the funeral service for his grandfather. He had arrived directly from the airport.
Yoon placed the ball, raised his right hand to measure his kicking angle, methodically took three steps back, and repeated the process. Satisfied with his mental math, he took two steps to the left at a 90-degree angle.
Finally, he took two steps up and blasted the ball 15 yards past the uprights, a 55-yard boot.
“If I miss that consistency, the kick’s not always going to be straight in,” Yoon said. “Kicking is a lot like golf. You have to calculate the wind, the angle, how much power – it’s all calculated.”
Yoon admitted that Saturday’s matchup against Governor’s has been marked on his calendar. His father is a Governor’s alum and his ties to the area are partly why Yoon ended up in Massachusetts for his education while his family remains in Tennessee.
He believes his parents will make the trip out to attend the game. Yoon is also confident that his father will put old alliances aside and root for Milton Academy.
Gibb steps up for Stoughton
When Stoughton senior quarterback Stanley Sajous went down early in the second quarter against Sharon with a twisted left ankle after getting tackled out of bounds, sophomore Jake Gibb knew his name was about to be called.
He had received his share of snaps in practices and said he “felt right” when he took the field as a varsity quarterback.
Gibb was 4-for-4 on passing completions and had a fifth one that was negated due to a flag on the Black Knights in a 26-3 victory over defending Division 3 Super Bowl champion Sharon.
“At first it was disbelief,” Gibb said. “I couldn’t believe I actually went out there and played most of the game and came out on top. It was definitely eye-opening.”
Coach Greg Burke said his team picked up its play despite missing senior running back Malachi Baugh, who underwent season-ending surgery on his leg Friday.
Burke says Gibb has a “cannon for an arm,” pointing to his completions for 39, 45, and 56 yards, respectively.
“He’s a tough kid, a great athlete, he knows he’s a winner. I haven’t seen a kid his age throw the ball like that in many years. He’s still a young kid; we’re not putting him in the hall of fame yet, but he’s gonna be a good one.”Peter Cappiello can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter@petecapps