Column: Servite’s Mason Graham will be a Michigan man after local recruiters passed on him

Bishop Amat quarterback Tobin O'Dell is sacked by Servite defensive tackle Mason Graham.
Bishop Amat quarterback Tobin O’Dell is sacked by Servite defensive tackle Mason Graham. Graham has 10 sacks this season.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

When Mason Graham, who is 6 feet 4 and 295 pounds, begins to move menacingly toward a quarterback, he resembles one of those old steam-powered locomotives picking up speed. Any obstacle in the way will get crushed and there won’t be a loud whistle providing a warning of an impending collision.

With 10 sacks for unbeaten Anaheim Servite (8-0), Graham has proven himself to be the best two-way lineman in California going into Saturday night’s clash matching No. 1 Santa Ana Mater Dei (6-0) against the No. 2 Friars at Santa Ana Stadium.

He’s going to become the latest top high school prospect to leave California for college when he enrolls at Michigan in January.

There’s no one to blame but the recruiters themselves.

Every recruiter who came to talk to coach Troy Thomas got the same message.

“Dude, he’s a player,” Thomas told them.


Graham was a two-time Trinity League wrestling champion at heavyweight. But only a few Mountain West schools wanted him for football, so he committed to Boise State in July because the Broncos did their homework and recognized his potential.

When this season started and Graham began to pile up sacks, Michigan got involved. Graham changed his commitment in September. Then Oregon and USC offered scholarships.

Servite's Mason Graham has 10 sacks.

They were too late. He still answers calls from recruiters trying to get him to change his mind, because that’s who he is — a respectful, humble teenager — but he said he’s preparing to leave for Michigan in January.

“It’s pretty crazy,” Graham said of the recruiting process. “You never know what’s going to happen. Things always change.”

Thomas always knew what he had in Graham.

“I would be surprised if there’s another two-way lineman as good as him,” he said. “Defensive line, he’s great. Offensive line, he’s really good. He’s a technically sound defensive lineman with great athletic ability.”

One big question that will be answered Saturday is can Graham continue with his “no plays off” philosophy against a big, physical Mater Dei team. Some expect him and the Friars to get worn down by the fourth quarter because they have more two-way players than the Monarchs. Just understand that Graham and his teammates have been preparing weeks for this challenge.

“I’m glad all of our guys are mostly healthy,” he said. “We wanted to play them at their best and have a good battle between two good teams and see who comes out on top.”

Graham sees football workouts and games as a breeze compared to the challenges of wrestling.

“It’s a lot harder condition than football,” he said. “You don’t get time off. You’re wrestling six minutes straight.”

All those people wondering just how good Servite is will finally learn the truth with a showdown against unbeaten Mater Dei on Saturday night.

Mater Dei coach Bruce Rollinson recognizes how effective Graham has become for the Friars.

“He’s a force,” Rollinson said. “He’s got a motor and plays hard every play. You can tell the kids draw energy from his effort.”

Perhaps the next time recruiters come to Servite, they will listen to Thomas.

“We’ve been telling them, ‘He’s a great player,’” Thomas said.

Everyone believes him now.