TUESDAY, DECEMBER 10, 2013
Earnest Graham will carry on the legacy of his family as a businessman in his hometown of Fort Myers.
The 1998 Mariner High School graduate also wants to create a legacy of improving Southwest Florida football.
At 6 on the night of December 8, 2013, at Harborside Convention Center in downtown Fort Myers, Graham was a part of the 25th annual John Carrigan Rotary South All-Star Classic, this time as the event’s guest speaker at the banquet for players, coaches, cheerleaders, parents and friends.
Graham, prior to playing at the University of Florida and starting as a running back for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, rushed for 100 yards on 16 carries in the ninth annual football game for Lee County senior All-Star high school players back in 1997.
The Classic will be played at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at Fort Myers High School’s Sam Sirianni Field at Edison Stadium.
Graham may be able to coach in the game next year. North Fort Myers High principal Dale Houchin urged Graham to apply for the coaching job with the Red Knights, and Graham is considering the job.
“We are very excited to have Earnest Graham, an alumnus of the game, to be our keynote speaker for the event,” said Rotary South president-elect Rebecca Goff, who organized the game. “It’s just a perfect fit.”
Graham, 33, has not played a down in the NFL since Oct. 23, 2011, when he suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon injury that ended his eight-year NFL career.
In his second-to-last game on Oct. 16, 2011, Graham rushed for 109 yards on 17 carries and caught two passes for 22 yards in a 26-20 victory against the New Orleans Saints. He said he felt just fine with that performance being his swan song.
“I know I’ve never been on a football field and not been able to perform, and I’m glad I left it that way,” Graham said.
When 2014 begins, Graham and his wife Alicia will finish launching their insurance company, Pro Player Insurance Group, a franchise they co-own with former Buccaneers running back Carnell “Cadillac” Williams under the umbrella of the Great Florida Insurance Company.
Graham rented a historic home and is converting it into his office off Fowler Street in downtown Fort Myers. The office has a room he designed as a mini-version of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers locker room and another room in which he has displayed the numerous game balls he earned.
Graham initially invested in a trucking company before settling on insurance as his post-playing career.
Graham noted his great grandfather, Lewis Carter, opened one of the first African-American owned businesses in Fort Myers as a shoe maker.
Graham moved to Cape Coral earlier this year, having grown up in the Michigan Court housing projects and on Guava Street near downtown Fort Myers among other homes across Lee County.
“I wanted to provide a service to the community,” Graham said. “I thought doing an insurance agency was one of the better ways.”
Graham said should he decide to coach high school football, he could do so while still running his business.
“I do want to have an impact on the quality of football in Southwest Florida,” Graham said. “I don’t know yet how I want that to happen. I do feel like I have something to give to the area.”
Houchin worked at Mariner as an assistant principal during Graham’s time there.
North’s deadline for accepting applications passed Friday. Houchin said he hoped to make a decision by Dec. 20, if not this week.
“He would make an excellent football coach, I think,” Houchin said of Graham. “More than just a football coach, he is such a man of integrity.”
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