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Rick Stroud, Greg Auman and Matt Baker

After a trying several weeks, Earnest Graham ready to bounce back



The timing of fullback Earnest Graham's recent hamstring injury couldn't have been worse.

It's not just that it came just as the Bucs were rounding into shape and making things interesting in the NFC South standings. It also came just as his mother had taken a turn for the worse in her long battle with cancer.

Sandra Smith died November 7. She was 57.

"It was like a coincidence," Graham said of his injury. "With all my mom was going through, and me staying up with her at night, and me not sleeping much, my body was just under a lot of stress. After this week, I kind of feel fresh in my mind and fresh in everything else. I’m ready to go."

Graham didn't travel with the team to Arizona nor Atlanta, but he was on the sidelines for Sunday's win over the Panthers, a day after his mother's memorial service in his native Fort Myers. Being back among teammates was comforting.

"The guys here have been so supportive," Graham said. "From the coaching staff, to everybody calling, to ownership. Actually, yesterday, when LeGarrette (Blount) scored and ran off the field, he gave me the football, which was really nice of him. Lots of guys have been calling to check up on me and keeping me in good spirits. I made sure I was around when I could be. But they were very, very supportive. I thank them for that."

On Saturday, during services held in his mother's honor, a large crowd packed the church to pay tribute to a woman who Graham said impacted many, many lives.

"I learned a lot of stuff about her that I didn’t know," he said. "Quite a few people turned out from all over Lee County. I went great. She was special. She was a special lady."

And despite the craziness of the past several weeks, Graham maintains he is ready to focus on football. Coach Raheem Morris said he'll defer to his veteran in deciding whether he's ready.

"I’m fired up," Morris said of Graham's return. " I hope he can (play). . . He’s kind of (getting) that (Jeff) Faine treatment. If he can go, we’re going to trust in Earnest because we know what he is and we know what he means to our football team. And we all love Earnest. He’s one of our fan favorites."

[Last modified: Monday, November 15, 2010 4:56pm]


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