My Story

Mine is definitely sports related! In the book I wrote recently, I tell the story about my sophomore year. I was starting at football and we were about to play Florida in Gainesville. My position coach called me in and was telling me I’m the top receiver (that’s always good to hear)! He basically was giving me a pep talk. We played that game in “The Swamp” and Florida killed us. They were great that year. They had an amazing defense as well as Emmitt Smith running the ball on offense and beat us 34-11. I remember coming back after the game and got called into an individual meeting. My coach said to me that others were complaining about me and told me that they’re moving me from first string to 3rd string. Things were the very the opposite of what they said before and I didn’t understand, but after a player quit, I ended up playing again. In fact for the rest of my playing days, Clarence Sevillian (Bunk) and I ran plays in every other play and became best friends. Being a 19 year old kid in college, it was a real wake up call. I realized that College Athletics was a business and saw the politics and everything that plays along and it made me change how I was going through life. I was always a really good student in High-School, but college was a different story. After struggling a bit up until this point, I then became much more serious with my academics, especially after I realized that I most likely wouldn’t be going to the NFL. I went from a struggling student athlete in the classroom to an Academic All SEC. It was so competitive in the classroom and I needed not just the wake up call in class, but also on the field to open my eyes to my education. The trajectory I was on in College really set the trajectory for where I am today. College academics and athletics is not easy. You need to adjust quickly for change and many times there are setbacks but that doesn’t mean you can’t have success! I had one of the best educations in America and eventually became a better student. On the field, I contributed in other ways than being a star player. I became a team leader and for the past 26 years I’ve been giving back to student athletes that are on the same path as I was over 30 years ago.

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My Advice

I tell guys and girls today to get outside your comfort zone. Connect and build relationships with others who aren’t jocks and ball players. Go and get to know others as you never know how those connections might help for your future. The world is a different place today and it’s going to stay that way so go and get to know people that are different than yourself.
I also talk to younger students all the time and tell them to not forget who they are and where they come from as well as to embrace their own process. There are too many “over night success stories” where people get famous quickly with no process to it. I’d say to those kids out there to not compare yourself with these others and to create their own path. It’s not easy to do as this process may take longer, but it builds a better foundation for who you are as a person.

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Dr Derrick Gragg is the epitome of what humbleness, faith, creativity, persistence, “you only live once”, family oriented, honor to true friends and enjoying life can lead to. I’ve known him for 30 plus years and I get excited every time I say his name and think about where he was at 18 and where he is now. I love him, his family and all of Dafellaz with all my heart and we all will say the same about each other!!! (Derrick D Payne, DDS)

Lord Byran DeGraffenreid says:

Cannot begin to express the impact Dr. Gragg or DG (as I call him) has had on my life. As a former Vanderbilt teammate of Dr. Gragg (DG was finishing his career as I began mine) I looked for him to demonstrate what it took to play at a high level on the field while maintaining that same level of skill off the field and in the classroom. Dr. Gragg became my first academic counselor at the McGugin Center. It wasn’t easy. I was a hardheaded very talented player who thought he knew everything. Vanderbilt and the SEC have a way of humbling oneself. Dr. Gragg had already experienced the ups and downs, so it wasn’t difficult for him to help me navigate thru it. I was an All-SEC honoarable mention as a freshman. Made the NFL Combine as one of the nations top players as a senior. Graduated from Vanderbilt “on time” and went Pro. Yet my story with Dr. Gragg doesn’t stop there. I played for a very short stint in the Pro’s. Left due to injury. But Praise God for my degree. I took my degree and went into the Financial Services Industry. Became a Broker for one of the Nations top brokerage firms. Left there to start my own firm in 2004. In the meanwhile, Dr. Gragg and I reconnected as he was the acting Athletic Director for Eastern Michigan University and I was practicing in Michigan during this time. It was a seemless transition for us to continue our personal relationship from our days at Vandy to now, in a professional environment, grow that relationship. That was 12 years ago. Now Dr. Gragg or once again…DG has been a client of mine ever since. I finally have an opportunity to be a blessing to him and his family’s financial future as he has always been a blessing to me.

June Jakes says:

It is with pleasure I share some things about the Derrick Gragg that I know and a young man whom I watched mature into a person with great qualities which I would want any child of mine to possess.

I met Derrick when he was a junior in a Huntsville, Alabama high school. He was being recruited to play football at Vanderbilt University. I was with the football office and would see Derrick as he made his unofficial visits to campus attending football games. When he committed and then signed his NCAA Letter of Intent with us, I’ll admit to thinking that skinny little kid is going to get killed. He always had a big smile and an attitude which could not be matched by anyone. Derrick hit the weight room and class room with the same vengeance that he took onto the playing field. Derrick belonged to a group of football players who did volunteer work to help others during his time on campus. During his time on campus I never had to give him a call to come to the Coach’s office for discipline matters.

I watched Derrick after graduation move on into the working world and climb up the career ladder. He worked in college athletics and as I best remember he started in the academic and compliance area of athletics and the next thing I heard he was an assistant athletic director at Michigan then word goes out that he has named the athletic director at Tulsa. I was not the least bit surprised to see how quickly Derrick achieved so many of his goals.

I consider Derrick one of my closest friends from college as we have stayed in touch over the years. Along with being a teammate, he was also my pledge leader, or Dean, when I pledged Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity. Therefore, I know his character that he has shown throughout the years I have know him. He truly walks the walk of what he teaches about student athletes being reaching beyond the field or court to become all that they can be. I have personally heard him deliver this message countless times. Tulsa is fortunate to have an AD that leads by example. His record proves that he is/would be a valuable asset to any institution that he belongs.

Robert Davis says:

Very profound and true words from Derrick. I had the pleasure of playing football with Derrick and he is a very high character, honest, team, and hard working person I know. Truly words to share with your kids and team.

Nabil says:

Gragg and I played together at Vanderbilt. He was always a great teammate and a leader in what at times were challenging situations. I always remember him as someone who focused on winning and the team, and happy to see him succeeding in life after football.

Rod says:

A great story!!! My children have benefited from Derrick and haven’t realized it yet. Surround your children with real role models. Derrick is as real as they get.

Gabe Banks says:

D. Gragg was always a person who I would describe as a player ahead of the game. This was true not only on the field but it was equally true off the field. Gragg always had an end game in mind. Ironically, that end game was to never quit and to always aspire to exceed your potential. His example on and off the field was an inspiration to me as a player and student-athlete. His example remains with me as I pursue my dreams and goals in life.

D. Gragg I salute you for the example you provided for the generation to come behind you.

Gary Rogers says:

Derrick, thank you so much for sharing a bit of your story. You have so many talents. You are a great athlete, smart guy and leader in college as well as Athletic Director today, but the fact that you can be humble to share some of the things that took place in your past is what’s most appealing! Your humility is what it took in order to really examine your “game of life” and to get better over 30 years ago while you attended Vanderbilt. Realizing that your athletics wasn’t going to be long lasting and making the decision to make your education a priority is an amazing Check Your Game moment and one that has given you great results today! I always remember you as a leader who led by his actions. Thanks Derrick for being a role model to me while in College as I was looking to upperclassmen for guidance as an incoming Freshman. I also know that your story will be encouraging for others who also think that their sport will last a lifetime! So what I heard from you is: to make education a priority, get to know others who aren’t similar to you and be patient when going through life and not to worry about others who may seem to gain success overnight and focus on your own foundation (lasts much longer)! Thanks again for your time and especially for what you’re doing with giving back to student athletes!