Will Gragg is pretty sure he’s always wanted to play in the National Football League.
“I think since birth I’ve thought about playing in the NFL,” he said Friday. “My father was a coach. He’d been coaching since before I was born. My grandfather was a coach.
“It was in my blood.”
As far as career aspirations go, being a professional athlete is one of the most common … and one of the most unlikely to obtain.
Gragg, though, isn’t like most of those dreamers looking up to players they only see on TV. The soon-to-be senior at Dumas has an NFL player in all the family photos he can look at every day. An NFL player who taught him virtually everything he knows about the game of football.
That player is his older brother Chris Gragg who played tight end — the same position Will Gragg plays — at Warren High School, the University of Arkansas and now for the Buffalo Bills.
“He taught me how to catch,” Will Gragg said of his brother. “When I started playing tight end, he taught me the route tree, how to stick my foot and how to block better. Now that we’re here, we work to polish everything. Every time somebody told him something in Buffalo or at Arkansas, he’d pass it on to me.
“He’s really taught me everything.”
Will Gragg said his dream of playing in the NFL started feeling like a realistic goal when he got his first college offer from Arkansas the summer prior to his sophomore year. But when his brother was drafted and made the Bills’ roster, he said the vision became even clearer.
“It’s a huge advantage,” Will Gragg said of having his brother to emulate. “He’s where I want to be. He’s in the league. He’s made the coveted 53-man roster.
“Seeing him along the way, I know what it takes to get to that level.”
To get to that level, Gragg first needs to make it through at least three years of college football. He hasn’t decided where to play after he’s done at Dumas, but he’s not short of options by any stretch.
The 6-foot-4, 219-pound Gragg is up to 45 offers from major programs around the country. He said he has offers from every Southeastern Conference school except Texas A&M and Florida. He also has offers from national champion Florida State, Big 12 champion Baylor, Big Ten champion Michigan State, Notre Dame, Miami, Oklahoma and Texas — just to name a few.
Gragg, who played the past two years at Pine Bluff, is ranked 209th on ESPN’s top 300 players in the class of 2015. ESPN has him tabbed as the seventh-best tight end in the country and the second best player in the state regardless of position.
Gragg said he’d be in Beaverton, Oregon, July 7-10 participating in The Opening combine event hosted by Nike. He said Nike-sponsored players such as Richard Sherman, Johnny Manziel, Ndamukong Suh and Calvin Johnson are expected to stop by the camp.
Gragg said he plans to announce his top five or six schools at the event. He tweeted out a top-five several months ago but has since received several more offers. Gragg said previously that he plans to announce his commitment on Nov. 18.
Regardless of his college decision, Gragg appears to be on the path his brother and other players from Southeast Arkansas have traveled before him. Asked about the opportunity to be a role model for kids, Gragg said he tries to follow the example of those who came before him.
“It’s humbling,” Gragg said of being viewed as a role model. “I grew up watching Chris, (Jarius) Wright and Greg Childs and kind of watch what they do. You just try to stay out of trouble and keep your reputation good.
“The important thing, though, is to stay humble.”
Sometimes those humbling experiences come when you least expect it.
Sitting in his living room Friday, just over a week before his family is set to move to Dumas, Gragg watches highlights on ESPN’s “SportsCenter” of 11-year-old golfer Lucy Li carding her second straight 8-over 78 at the U.S. Women’s Open.
“That’s crazy,” he says. “There’s always somebody who’s going to come along to help you stay humble.”