Burlingame High junior Chris Graham needed just four games to etch his name into the Panther football program’s proverbial record book with a six-sack performance in a close loss at Mountain View.
And he didn’t waste any time producing an encore act. In the second quarter of Burlingame’s next game, the Peninsula Athletic League Bay Division opener against visiting Menlo-Atherton last Thursday, Graham booted a 48-yard field goal.
Official school records haven’t been maintained through the years, but suffice it to say that Graham now enjoys a very high rank in two categories. His field goal was the longest in John Philipopoulos’ 10 years as Burlingame’s head coach.
As for the six-sack effort, Philipopoulos said: “If it’s not (number) one, it’s definitely two.” Who might’ve had a more sack-happy game? Eric Bahktiari, who has since been a member of five NFL teams.
That Graham (6-foot-3, 197 pounds) has enjoyed such a distinguished start to his varsity career and still has a year and a half remaining has the Burlingame coaching staff buzzing.
“If you’re not accounting for him and where he is, he’s going to make you pay,” Philipopoulos said. “He’s a game changer.”
The Burlingame coach was referring to Graham’s prowess at outside linebacker – adding that he’s “an outstanding run defender” as well as a dangerous pass rusher -- but he just as easily could’ve been talking about the overall player. For example, it was Graham’s punt that pinned M-A deep in its territory and led to an early safety. And as Philipopoulos noted, “to kick a 48-yard field goal is just about unheard of” in the high school game.
Ask Graham about his sacks – he has 9½ in five games – and he perks up, saying “nothing beats” the thrill of dragging down the opposing quarterback. In the 26-24 loss at Mountain View, he said that his first five sacks came on designed blitzes but that on the final one, “I just went on my own.” He had no idea how many sacks he had until jubilant teammates alerted him.
Ironically, Graham said getting sacks is far from his focus on defense. “For me, it’s almost like that’s the smallest part of what I’m trying to do,” he said, adding that defending the run and then the pass are his first two objectives. He has 31 tackles, including four behind the line of scrimmage.
Graham credits much of his ability as a placekicker to playing soccer when he lived with his family in Ireland from ages 6 to 9.
During games, he speaks up as soon as he feels the Panther offense is within his range. “As soon as I feel I can make it, I just say, ‘I can make this one, coach.’”
Don’t think the 48-yarder will stand as Graham’s best for long. Philipopoulos said that the soaring kick against M-A “probably had another 10 yards” on it. And Graham said he connected from 60 yards during the spring.
Graham has only recently started to think about playing beyond Burlingame, and now he’s looking into some recruiting camps in the spring and summer that he feels might raise his profile to colleges. Should he continue to develop as a linebacker and a kicker, he may well find more open doors as a recruit. But his positional preference is no mystery.
“If I have an opportunity to kick somewhere I would take it,” he said, “but my passion is outside linebacker and playing defense.”
Graham is also a very talented basketball player, and he’s looking forward to playing varsity hoops this winter, but he said “it’s just all about football for me.”
Player and coach agree that Graham’s path to greater riches on the gridiron will come largely from his work off the field – specifically in the weight room.
“Maybe get a little faster … I have to get a lot stronger,” said Graham, who will drop lacrosse this year to focus on football training. “I need to take it upon myself, after practice or before school.”
“He’s got to put some weight on for sure, but I think he could be a really good outside linebacker,” Philipopoulos said. “I think for Chris, the sky’s the limit. I think whatever he chooses, he’s going to excel.”