LOS ANGELES — Michigan defensive lineman Mason Graham answered questions from reporters at the Rose Bowl Game press conference Thursday morning, giving his thoughts on Alabama’s offense while sweat drops formed on his face and neck under the warm autonomous light.
The sophomore was in the spotlight as he made something of a homecoming — he’s a product of Servite High School, a Trinity League school in Anaheim.
“I just wanted to experience something new, to get away from what I’m used to. Be uncomfortable,” Graham said. “That was what coming to Michigan was, and it was a good opportunity for me.”
Graham added that head coach Jim Harbaugh and the rest of the staff have actually made his transition quite comfortable. He was a first-team All-Big Ten selection this season and ranks eighth in the Big 10 in pass win rate at 17.1 percent.
He’s part of a defense that ranks fifth nationally in rushing defense as well as red zone defense and second in passing yards per game. The Wolverines are 13-0 overall.
The Rose Bowl was held almost in Graham’s backyard when he was a child, and although he never attended, the game was usually in the background while he focused on other sports – he wrestled in high school in addition to playing football.
His immediate family will be attending the CFP semifinal game on Monday and his Servite teammates have reached out to him. Troy Thomas, who coached Graham at Servite before parting ways with the program in 2022, was particularly forthcoming.
“It’s kind of like this brotherhood,” Graham said. “It was an all-boys school so it was a bit different, you were just there with all your guys trying to achieve a goal. We did this in high school. We tried, but we failed a little.
Graham was referring to the 2021 CIF Southern Section Division 1 championship game, a game against Mater Dei that the Friars lost 27-7.
Although he didn’t reach that championship goal, sitting under the bright lights of a Rose Bowl Game press conference seems like a laudable accomplishment for Graham, and one that Servite helped him reach .
ROAD TRIP ON THE WEST COAST
Michigan’s trip to Southern California for the Rose Bowl Game is its longest road trip of the season, but trips to the West Coast will become more common in future seasons as more Pac-12 teams merge with the Big 10 Conference.
The Wolverines will travel to Seattle to face Washington at the end of the 2024 season after hosting USC for the conference opener of the 2024 season and Oregon at the midpoint. UCLA is expected to make its first trip to Michigan during the 2026 season.
Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh told reporters Wednesday that his team looked fresh in practice this morning.
Jaylen Harrell, the Wolverines’ edge rusher, said sleep, hydration and a good breakfast helped. Defensive back Rod Moore said mindset is the most important factor in being productive in the middle of a trip.
“We know what type of game it is and we didn’t let the time difference bother us,” Moore said. “For me, I was tired yesterday, but when you get to training, it goes away.”
RESPECT FOR THE ROSE BOWL
Alabama offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Tommy Rees praised the Rose Bowl as a venue Thursday morning. The coach has a personal connection to UCLA. His mother was a student there, and his brother played for UCLA football from 2006 to 2010.
“Every year it was like we stopped what we were doing and watched the Rose Bowl no matter what. This place is majestic for my family.
Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh also attached nostalgia and importance to the Rose Bowl as a venue and a game. He remembers getting up every year as a kid and watching the New Year’s game.
“Your jaw is hanging, there’s a few feet of snow outside,” Harbaugh said. “You’re a kid from the Midwest, you see the sun and the palm trees and the mountains. The parade, the game, Disneyland and it’s like I want to go there one day. I want to play this game.
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