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Pitt running back Graham has family on his mind

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Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Pitt running back Ray Graham celebrates after scoring a third-quarter touchdown against Temple on Saturday, Oct. 27, 2012, at Heinz Field.

PANTHERS GAMEDAY

vs. No. 21 Rutgers

Noon Saturday, Heinz Field

TV/radio: ESPN2/KDKA-FM (93.7), Sirius channel 106, XM channel 196

Records: Pitt 4-6, 1-4 Big East; Rutgers 9-1, 5-0

Line: Pitt by 2

Series: Pitt leads, 21-8

Outlook: Pitt quarterback Tino Sunseri has thrown 206 consecutive passes without an interception, the second-longest active streak in the nation behind Texas-San Antonio's Eric Soza's 234. ... Rutgers' defense leads the Big East in interceptions (15), but quarterback Gary Nova has thrown 12. ... Pitt has committed a Big East-low seven turnovers. Rutgers has forced the most (27). ... Pitt needs to beat Rutgers and South Florida to become bowl eligible for the fifth consecutive season.

'American Coyotes' Series

Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

Friday, Nov. 23, 2012, 10:56 p.m.
 

For Ray Graham, Pitt's final home game of the season is all about family — the one he was born into and another he has adopted in Pittsburgh.

When Pitt plays Rutgers on Saturday at Heinz Field, the Panthers' senior running back will be thinking about both families. His brother, Khaseem Greene, is a senior linebacker for the Scarlet Knights and the reigning Big East defensive player of the year.

“He is going to try to get a good hit on me every time he can,” Graham said, “and I'm going to try and dodge those hits.”

His other family consists of the 17 fellow seniors, who will be honored today before the game, and the rest of the team that has suffered through turmoil over the past two years.

After practice this week, seniors Graham, Jarred Holley, Cam Saddler and Tino Sunseri spoke about their time at Pitt, with Saddler standing behind the others and throwing his arms around them.

“With all that's been going on, no matter who came and coached us, we just stuck together,” Graham said.

Such solidarity has not led to success on the field, with Pitt (4-6) trying to avoid its second consecutive losing season since Dave Wannstedt was fired in 2010.

But Graham hopes to salvage the season and stretch Pitt's bowl streak to five years.

“I definitely want to play in one more game,” he said, “and these seniors want to play in one more game.”

In any case, Graham and his brother appear destined for a football career beyond college, with both players among the top draft prospects at their positions in the Class of 2013. NFLdraftscout.com projects Greene as a second-round choice. Graham is a possible third or fourth-rounder, according to the same service.

“As a young man, when they ask what you want to be when you grow up, everybody says NFL or NBA,” Graham said. “Now that the dream is actually here and you're right here close to it, it's kind of crazy. We just grew up saying we wanted to be the best. That's why we work hard.”

Hard work for both brothers has meant more than playing games. Greene (ankle) and Graham (knee) have overcome serious injuries suffered last year, but Graham is on pace for the first 1,000-yard season of his career while Greene leads the Big East in tackles (107).

“He makes people look silly when they try to tackle him,” Greene said of his brother. “He can run past you. He can run through you.”

Greene and Graham credit their uncle, Hakeem, for pushing them through rehabilitation, pointing out when one brother was working harder than the other.

“He's been a mentor since we were young kids,” Graham said of Hakeem, his father Raymond's brother. “He's done a lot for us. He's done a lot for the whole family.”

Graham said he talks with his brother about three times a week. Although Graham is two years younger, their injuries helped create a bond.

“We have come from a long way,” Graham said. “The struggle is nothing new to us. Hard work and determination and dedication is what we were built on.”

Jerry DiPaola is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at jdipaola@tribweb.com or 412-320-7997.

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