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Texas DE Ta’Quon Graham mentally, physically primed for major role in 2019

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After learning behind recent stars along the Longhorns defensive line, Ta’Quon Graham is eyeing his opportunity entering his junior season.

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COLLEGE FOOTBALL: APR 13 Texas Spring Game Photo by John Rivera/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Ta’Quon Graham era may finally be upon us.

Once regarded as the most highly-ranked defensive addition to Tom Herman’s transitional class in 2017, Graham has largely spent the previous two seasons in a reserve role, learning from the likes of NFL-caliber talents in Poona Ford, Chris Nelson, and Charles Omenihu.

“With Poona, from his demeanor,” Graham told the media on Sunday of what he learned from previous leaders along the defensive line. “He made plays and got up and acted like he’s been there before. Silent leadership; he leads by action and not by words. Chris Nelson is the same way… Charles is just someone I could ask what move would I work here and there.”

Each of the aforementioned are now long gone, though, competing for a paycheck, which paves the way for Graham to secure a much more significant role in Austin.

‘Now coming into my junior year, I expect, of course, to have a bigger role and to do a lot more than I have in the past,” Graham said.

After playing sparingly as a true freshman in 2017, Graham enjoyed an uptick in reps last season, appearing in all 14 games, including starts against Maryland and Texas Tech, but he totaled only 12 tackles and two sacks along the way.

However, his projected role in 2019 should serve as a considerable step forward from his previous duties, given that Graham is now the frontrunner to start on the edge opposite of senior Malcolm Roach, who said he envisions Graham as an emerging star entering 2019.

“Oh yeah,” Roach said when asked if Graham could become the breakout star for the Horns’ defense in 2019. “He’s a guy who played a few plays his freshman year. Last year he started playing a lot more. I think he’s primed to have a big year this year just because of the way he’s been working in the weight room.”

Graham has, indeed, taken apparent strides to that end.

The eye test will show that Graham now appears more stout, and the Longhorns’ roster will reveal the same, as he’s now listed at 300 pounds; up from his 2018 playing weight of 285.

“I got bigger and I cut my body fat down, which is something I wanted to do,” Graham said. “I didn’t want to get bigger and get fatter or anything like that. I wanted to bulk up a little bit for the 4i, for the 3-technique or whatever they want me to play; moving around all up and down the line.”

Just weeks ago at the Texas High School Coaches Association convention, Longhorns defensive coordinator Todd Orlando said, ”we’ve been waiting on [Ta’Quon Graham].”

While they were waiting, Graham learned behind back-to-back Big 12 Defensive Lineman of the Year recipients in Ford and Omenihu, as well as the aforementioned Nelson. All the while, Graham built his body into form in order that when the opportunity presented itself, he’d be able to capture it and take complete control of a role a key presence along the Texas defensive line.

It appears that opportunity is at hand, and it appears Graham is ready.