Alfonzo Graham is listed on the Steelers roster as 5’9”, 180lbs, he’s a running back. He played college football at a historically Black university. His play wasn’t enough to get him drafted or even get an undrafted free agent contract. That’s plenty enough reasons for anyone to think the young man needed to find a non-NFL career. But that is just some of the long odds Graham has overcome.
The first thing to know about Alfonzo Graham is he has played for a lot of football teams. He played for three different High School football teams in his hometown of Baltimore, ending his high school career by winning the 2017 Class 1A State Championship at Dunbar High School in his senior season. Despite over 1,400 yards and 20 touchdowns in that championship run, Graham didn’t have many options for college and ended up settling for JUCO football, playing for Arizona Western College in 2018. After barely playing his freshman season, Arizona Western shut down the football program and Graham headed to Independence Community College in Kansas. He wouldn’t be there long, transferring to another Junior College, this time Fullerton College in California. He played there in 2019, scoring 3 touchdowns and gaining over 450 yards.
COVID-19 hit and the 2020 season at Fullerton was cancelled. That led to another transfer for Graham, this time back to Baltimore to play at Morgan State University. There Graham would gain 654 yards and 5 touchdowns in 2021 before soaring to 1235 yards and 9 touchdowns in 2022. He was invited to the HBCU Legacy Bowl and participated in the HBCU combine.
Three high schools and four colleges means the Steelers are Graham’s eighth team in nine years. It’s not easy to find success when you are changing offenses all the time, but just like he found success at Dunbar High School as a senior, he found success at Morgan State where he had a bit of stability. Limited success isn’t a great way to endear one’s self to NFL teams, and his performances at the HBCU Combine and his pro day wouldn’t do him any favors either.
Graham is undersized no matter what position he plays, but that’s okay, if you have speed. But Graham ran a 4.56 forty and none of his athletic testing numbers jump off the page at all. If you plug his results into the RAS (Relative Athletic Score) calculator, he is a 4.16 as a running back, or a 3.17 if you plug him in at wide receiver. Consider that over 80% of NFL players score above a 5 on RAS, and you can see the odds for Alfonzo Graham getting longer and longer.
The Steelers gave him a rookie tryout contract, and he turned that into a spot on the offseason roster. If that was the end of the story it would be an incredible story of defying the odds. News from the Steelers Organized Team Activities says he isn’t content and isn’t done fighting the odds. On Wednesday June 7th he made a fantastic catch on the sideline that drew attention, and then on Thursday he called for a matchup with Minkah Fitzpatrick, which of course he lost. While it was a “welcome to the NFL” moment and made a splash on social media, Alfonzo Graham’s explanation of why he called out a respected veteran shows the mentality that he has taken to keep growing and beat the odds time and time again.
“This level is different. I want to go up against the competition, the guy that is the best. He’s handling his business and I want to see where my iron has to be so I can sharpen it. It doesn’t matter to me. I want my name to be out there. You know how everyone knows Minkah Fitzpatrick and T.J. Watt? That’s how I want to be when they say Alfonzo Graham’s name. Going up against the best is how you do that.”
(For his full comments on the event check out the article from Nick Farabaugh at Steelersnow.com)
Alfonzo Graham is still a very distant long-shot to make the Steelers roster, he’d be beating the odds just to make the practice squad, but he’s been there before, and he’s not afraid to do whatever it takes to defy the odds again.
One of my favorite things about the Steelers offseason is the stories of these young men fighting for their dreams against long odds, and while he’s not likely to ever be held in the same regard as T.J. Watt and Minkah Fitzpatrick, it’s a great story and a player I’ll be rooting for.