Folsom's Graves to be named National Player of the Year
Posted Friday, February 04, 2011 by Sac Bee
Dano Graves is about as genuine and sincere a superstar prep athlete as you will ever find. And those closest to him – family, teammates, coaches – will remind you to not let the man's pride portray the wrong image.
Graves craved to achieve on the football field, obsessed with living up to his motto during a record-breaking season at quarterback for the Folsom Bulldogs: "I want teams to remember me."
Remember how he passed.
Remember how fast he raced by them.
Remember who won the championship games.
Graves took apart the most stout and swift defenses in the state with his myriad skills, capping a season in which he reached all individual and team goals.
For his accomplishments, Graves will be presented with the MaxPreps.com National Player of the Year honor this morning at a ceremony at Folsom High School's gym.
He will be presented the award by the website's founder/president Andy Beal.
It follows his Bee Player of the Year honor and his Mr. Football State Player of the Year award from Cal-Hi Sports-ESPNRISE. Graves is the Sac-Joaquin Section's first football national Player of the Year winner since tailback Kevin Willhite of Cordova in 1981.
While those around him are not surprised at Graves' latest achievement, Graves says he is "blown away."
"Wow," he said. "National Player of the Year? I'm humbled."
Graves set a state single-season record with 85 total touchdowns. He passed for 3,702 yards and 62 touchdowns and ran for 994 yards and 23 more scores, playing in the fourth quarter of just three games.
He was responsible for 12 touchdowns (seven passing, five rushing) against powerhouse programs Grant and Serra of Gardena to win section and CIF State Division II championships, and cap what Folsom defensive coordinator Max Miller deemed "the greatest year for a player we've ever seen around here."
Said Folsom coach Kris Richardson of the MaxPreps honor: "It's big time, and he's earned everything. We watched his highlight tape and we're still blown away at what he did. Just a very special player."
MaxPreps senior writers Mitch Stephens and Stephen Spiewak said picking the top player in the country is no easy chore, not when considering there are thousands of athletes to choose from.
Stephens saw Graves play in his final two games and marveled at his drive.
"What struck me is that he's still speaking in the 'we', " Stephens said. "He's still the sincere teammate, not fake. I found him remarkably refreshing."
Willhite is a fan. He followed Graves in person, in print, on TV and via the Internet. Willhite was the Parade Player of the Year as the nation's top recruit, a breakaway runner who went to Oregon.
Willhite got to meet Henry Winkler – Fonzie from the sitcom "Happy Days" – and President Ronald Reagan during his Player of the Year ceremony in Washington, D.C.
"This honor now, he'll always be remembered for it," Willhite said. "It will open doors for him. Dano needs to enjoy it because it's amazing what he achieved. It will remain with him the rest of his life. I know it has for me."
Leg injuries slowed Willhite at Oregon, but he stuck it out and started his last two seasons at fullback. Willhite is married to his college sweetheart (Karen), has three kids and lives in Elk Grove, where he is a supervisor for International Paper.
At 5-foot-9, Graves hasn't drawn major recruiting interest, though Sacramento State has offered a scholarship. Willhite said any perception that Graves isn't big enough to warrant major interest isn't important. What matters, he said, is what's inside.
"It's not the size, it's Dano's heart, the intangibles that no one else has," Willhite said. "He's an excellent athlete, a super player, leader, the best."