When O’Connell Coach Del Smith looked at Santoni Graham‘s film from his junior season with the Knights, he saw an average linebacker.

That wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, as Graham served as one of the team’s most capable tacklers and defenders. But Smith knew the potential that Graham possessed and this past offseason, he pushed hard to get it out of Graham for his senior year.

Four days each week, Graham and his teammates endured grueling, two-and-a-half-hour sessions that included core exercises in the weight room and drill exercises on the field.

“It was really long and difficult, but that’s what we needed,” Graham said. “The coaches said if we weren’t going to give everything in the offseason, then we might as well not show up for the season. That stuck with me.”

The result was a strong start to the 2013 season for the Knights, who produced their first consecutive non-losing seasons since 1994-95, and Graham morphing into a Football Bowl Subdivision prospect who ultimately committed to Toledo earlier this month.

“You could tell he was playing at a different speed before,” Smith said. “When Toledo called, they were amazed that this kid didn’t have any offers. They said this is the [Bowl Championship Series] linebacker we always watch and can never get.”

In the 6-foot, 230-pound Graham, Toledo is getting a versatile, aggressive defender who has a nose for the ball that should help him excel in the Rockets’ 3-4 defense. This past season, Graham racked up 136 tackles, including 13 for loss, six sacks and eight pass breakups.

“I feel like they are on the rise in the MAC and I liked the coaches,” Graham said. “It’s an exciting opportunity and I feel like I could have a chance to play early when I get there.”

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