By Thomas Sellers Jr.
High school athletes getting a chance to celebrate a signing day is a special achievement.
For some coaches the day a student inks a letter of intent becomes routine. But all those coaches will tell you each signing is special and you never forget your first.
On June 28 in the Millington Central High School Lobby, Noah Graham’s ceremony to sign his letter of intent to Southwest Tennessee Baseball became a landmark moment for the player and his Head Coach Zane Adams.
“This is my second year as head coach and he’s my first one to sign under me,” Adams said. “So this is a big milestone for me as it is for him. You get into coaching because you want kids to become men and hopefully have the opportunity to play at the next level.”
Graham’s opportunity will come for Salquis Head Coach George Sykes. The 2016 season for Graham at Millington impressed his peers, rival coaches, area baseball experts and several college coaches.
“It feels really good to actually continue my baseball career at a higher level,” Graham said. “It feels good to be able to put Millington on the map a little bit. Not too many guys are able to sign. Coming out of this program, I like to leave on a positive note.”
Graham’s road to college baseball started as a youth but hit the fast lane in 2016. But Graham’s senior season was in jeopardy after a football game for the Trojans.
“I was at the game that it happened,” Adams recalled. “When it happened, it was a bad day for me as well. I took a deep breathe to make sure I was going to be OK as well. I had to make sure he was going to be OK.
“The biggest role I played was making sure he slowed down because he was determined to get back out there as soon as possible,” the Skipper continued. “At times he was doing too much. ‘Pump the brakes a little bit there. We’re going to make sure you take your time and you’re 100 percent healed.’ He worked hard and got back out there. He was good for me this year.”
Graham tore his ACL in October and had surgery in November.
“A lot of adversity was faced,” Graham said. “A lot people told me I wouldn’t be able to play my senior year of baseball. I think that motivated me to be able to play this year and do my best. I did better than I’ve ever done in my other three years.”
In 2016 Graham emerged as the Trojans’ No. 1 pitcher. He won big games on the mound and played shortstop on other days.
Graham won several awards including All-District 15-2A and was selected to the 2016 AutoZone Shelby County Baseball All-Star Game. He was also nominated for the 2016 Millington Star Male Athlete of the Year.
“All-District was definitely an honor,” Graham said. “It was good to be selected to that. The All-Star game was a lot of fun. I played pretty well in that. Just lucky and to be selected by people for that and get my skills recognized is always a good thing.”
Graham scored the final run in the All-Star game played in his future college baseball home of USA Stadium. Sykes got a chance to watch Graham play the game and witness his behavior around his teammates.
“I feel I can impact on the program,” Graham said. “I feel prepared and I feel like I can face whatever is thrown at me. Anything that comes towards me, I feel like I’m very motivated and faced enough adversity in the past so anything that comes at me I feel I can work through it and get to the top.”
The return for the ACL injury proved Graham has a deep love for the game of baseball. He said his support system kept him on the right path.
“My family and my coaches were behind me texting me and checking up on me everyday,” he said. “If I wasn’t in the lab or the weight room, they were text me and seeing what I was doing. They were telling me to keep my head on straight to make sure I wasn’t going around acting a fool. They wanted me to stay motivated to get back on the diamond.”
Adams said he’s glad Graham realized after their first season his new coach was on his side.
“Coming in last year as a first-year head coach, Noah and I bumped heads,” Adams acknowledged. “We did. But from this last summer coming into his senior years he flipped a switch. He bought into what I was teaching. If I needed something, I could ask him. He would take care of it. He won some big games for me. Shortstop he played unbelievable.”
Adams believes the no better player could have earned the distinction of being his first player to sign to the college level.
“He’s a great guy,” Adams recalled. “He does what you ask for. He stepped up this year to be a leader. I really pushed leadership this year. He stepped into that role perfectly. I couldn’t be happier to have a better guy. I tried to instill life lessons into my players — not just being athletes but young men as well. I hope he can take that wherever he goes in life.”