Isaiah Graham-Mobley never stopped running, never gave up, and was rewarded with one of the best plays of his underrated career.
With Georgia Tech quarterback Tobias Oliver just ready to cross the goal line after running for eight yards, Graham-Mobley got to him before the ninth could be gained. Graham-Mobley jabbed at the ball at the 1-yard line and forced a fumble that teammate Christian Braswell recovered. It was a key play in the second quarter of Temple’s 24-2 win over Georgia Tech on Saturday.
And it was a great play for a reserve linebacker, a distinction that is accurate in name, but not in description for Graham-Mobley.
The redshirt junior from Upper Merion has appeared in 28 games during his Temple career and started just twice, none this season. But the 6-foot-2, 225-pounder is third on the 3-1 Owls with three tackles for loss and seventh with 16 tackles.
“He’s a starter to me,” Temple coach Rod Carey said Tuesday as the Owls prepared for their 8 p.m. Thursday game at East Carolina (3-2) that will be televised by ESPN.
In his mind, Graham-Mobley is also a starter, and he actually receives the reps of a first-stringer. He just doesn’t get to start the game playing the deepest, most experienced position on the Owls roster.
“We have a nice rotation,” Graham-Mobley said. “I don’t mind [not starting]. They worked their butts off, the same with me. I am waiting for my opportunity to start, but I don’t mind sitting behind All-Americans.”
Temple plays a basic 4-3 defense and starts three senior linebackers. The position is so deep that junior William Kwenkeu, who has appeared in 37 games in his Temple career, decided before the season to redshirt because he knew it would be difficult to get playing time.
Temple’s starting linebackers are seniors Sam Franklin and Shaun Bradley and graduate student Chapelle Russell. The trio has played in 121 games, with 79 starts. Bradley, the middle linebacker, was a first-team all-American Athletic Conference selection last year.
Franklin is the strong-side linebacker and Russell the weak-side linebacker.
He plays all three positions, often in the same game.
“He works as hard and as much as anybody I know,” Russell said. “… He makes plays, can play all three positions, play special teams and can do it all.”
That is why Carey considers him a starter in everything but name.
“You really like to start all four of them, but it happens to be that some other guys in a position that we made some position schemes and we are pretty comfortable with that right now,” Carey said.
The three starting linebackers likely have a future on the next level. The same is true for Graham-Mobley.
All four are outstanding athletes. As a senior at Upper Merion, Graham-Mobley was a quarterback. He began his career at Temple as a safety and runs like a defensive back. That is how he was able to chase down the fleet Oliver to make a game-changing play Saturday.
The key for Graham-Mobley has been accepting his role, not getting too caught up in labels. Like anybody else, he would love to be a starter, but he has put his ego aside to be a major play-maker.