Derek Graves feels like he has been fortunate in life and he wants to pay it forward.
The South Dakota School of Mines senior wide receiver only made his way to Rapid City for one season after graduating from Idaho State University. He took advantage of the situation (one year left of eligibility) and had an outstanding season for the Hardrockers.
Soon it will be another chapter in the Stockton, Calif., native’s life that he hopes can be beneficial for those less fortunate.
With a degree in Sociology, Graves looks to pick up another degree at Mines in Interdisciplinary Sciences. His goal is be a police officer or counselor, anything he can do to work with people. Ideally, he would like to work with at-risk individuals.
“I just want to help people,” Graves said a day after the Hardrockers beat the University of Nebraska-Kearney 34-26 to close the season at 6-4.
Graves said his upbringing in a community that “isn’t the best place,” with people who had a lot of talent growing up, but didn’t have the right environment or a good home, has led him to his career-path. He said he was blessed to have a mother and a grandmother and family who supported him and got him to this point.
Graves, who starred at Cesar Chavez High School and San Jaoquin Delta College before playing at Idaho State, said those in need could come from gangs, their parents could be on drugs or even have parents who just aren’t home to be there for their children. It also could be people who are affected by their own poor choices.
Regardless of the circumstances, they are out there.
“I’m just trying to help people who should be here (using their talents), but for certain situations, people have their own choices and they can’t help their environment help their mind,” he said.
Graves was a victim himself of a bad situation that he said turned out for the better as it ultimately led him to the School of Mines. In his junior season at Idaho State, he was pushed down to the ground by head coach Mike Kramer, which led to a neck injury. While injured, he was suspended by Kramer for being late for practice, something that Graves denied. Kramer was later suspended by Idaho State for one game and Graves appeared on the ESPN program, “Outside the Lines.”
No charges were ultimately filed against Kramer but Graves never played again for the Bengals. In the first four games before the incident, he had 36 pass receptions, highlighted by back-to-back 15-catch games, including one against Black Hills State University. He caught 43 passes for 403 yards and two TDS in his only full season at Idaho State.
Graves said it was just a guy (Kramer) on a power trip and he (Graves) just happened to be the victim.
“I had a situation at Idaho State that wasn’t good,” Graves said. “It ended up being a great situation because I got to play here my last year. It ended up working out.”
After last season, Graves admits he thought his playing days were over, which was upsetting – he had played the game since he was a youngster. It wasn’t until this past January when he decided to seek his options. He looked at Dixie State, Southern Utah and the School of Mines.
He said Mines was a perfect fit.
“The other places were closer to home and the family could have come watch me play more, but when I came here on my visit, the staff and the team, it was a good opportunity and I felt welcomed,” Graves said.
Graves was the second Idaho State student-athlete in as many years to come to Mines for one final season of football. Running back Jahmel Rover, who led the team in rushing in 2012, preceded him from Pocatello.
Mines head coach Stacy Collins said it has been a unique situation, picking up a couple of players for one season from Idaho State.
“We’ve had two guys back-to-back who came here in very similar situations,” Collins said. “No. 1, they have been tremendous young men; two, they have done a great job in the classroom and three, they have helped us on the football field.”
Collins said he couldn’t be more excited about what Graves brought to this team from a leadership, maturity and play-making standpoint.
“We knew it (wide receiver) was one of our big needs going into the off-season,” Collins said. “We wanted to address that and start with Derek as the guy. If you look at the numbers, his yardage is impressive, but the touchdown catches were something. Our red-zone success this season was huge. When you have a guy with great body control and who could make such great catches, it is a game changer.”
Graves finished this season as the Hardrockers leading receiver with 48 receptions, 565 yards and 10 touchdowns.
“I was just trying to make plays and capitalize on opportunities. That was the biggest thing,” Graves said. “With the opportunities that I got, I needed to make the opportunities count.”
In his brief but successful career at Mines, he finished things off on Saturday with 11 catches for 110 yards and two touchdowns.
“The biggest thing for me was the win,” Graves said. “I didn’t realize my stats -- I knew I had two touchdowns -- but I didn’t know I had that many catches. It was a good day, just to beat a MIAA team in your last game as a college player. That is something I will remember forever, especially playing with all of my brothers and a great staff.”
One of the reasons Graves decided to play one more season was to have fun again. Mission accomplished. He said it was a good place to end his collegiate career.
“I got the most out of football as far as meeting people, playing the game that I love and getting my education paid for,” he said. “If this chapter is over, I’m content with it.”
His next chapter is about to begin.