By Jaylon Thompson / The Alliance
ATLANTA — The words “Humble Beast” is tattooed elegantly on the forearm of Atlanta Legends strong safety Tyson Graham Jr.
On the outside, Graham Jr. is a quiet leader who puts his team first. He is the first one to congratulate teammates or offer encouragement during a game or at practice.
The Atlanta Legends (1-3) return home to start a three-game home stand against the Memphis Express (1-3) this Sunday, March 10, at 4 p.m. ET at Georgia State Stadium. The game can be seen on the CBS Sports Network. Tickets to all Legends games are available here.
However, Graham Jr. harbors a big secret.
His tattoo isn’t just another work of art. It’s a warning sign to everyone who crosses his path on the field.
Deep inside, there is a pure brute who thrives on competition. There is a beast that burns with rage.
With a distinguished gait, the beast gallops with unbridled confidence. It cannot be contained, filled with nonstop aggression. When Graham Jr. puts on his helmet, he enters an alternate dimension.
The humble and quiet Tyson cannot be found. Instead, he is transformed by activating beast mode.
“I have that animal inside me that comes out,” Graham Jr. said Wednesday. “I feel like there is a chip on my shoulder. I play with physicality in everything and I let it be known.”
Graham Jr. has been this way his entire life. He currently leads The Alliance of American Football with 31 tackles (27 solo) and is a force in the Legends defense. He also registered a 75.0 rating against the Arizona Hotshots according to Pro Football Talk.
Growing up in Florida, Graham Jr. didn’t get the top recruiting offers. He was a talented athlete recruited to be a receiver.
He chose the University of South Dakota to continue his education. On a full scholarship, Graham Jr. faced the challenges of moving away from home.
Things were not easy.
Graham Jr. missed his family and friends and he lost his starting spot as a redshirt freshman. The sky was falling around him, but there was that fire that kept burning inside.
He knew there were better days ahead. Instead of quitting, he stoked the flames of that fire.
That season, he worked with then-South Dakota defensive coordinator Jason Petrino, who told Graham Jr. he was impressed with his physicality and suggested a move to safety.
“He told me it wasn’t going to be easy,” Graham Jr. said. “I made sure to be teachable and things really took off from there.”
Graham Jr. worked hard to make the move work. As a sophomore, he watched every spring practice and recognized the defensive calls. He became a savant at watching film and that translated onto the football field.
As a result, Graham Jr. started to make a name for himself.
“My first year playing safety in 2014, I led the Missouri Valley Football Conference with 97 tackles,” Graham Jr. said.
His hard work got him a shot in the NFL with the Atlanta Falcons and Indianapolis Colts. Now, Graham Jr. is with the Legends and looking to get back into the league.
In three games this season, Graham Jr. has thrived. He is making plays with his elite speed and quickness. As a taller safety, he can perform in zone coverage or at the line of scrimmage.
Graham Jr. dedicates his success to Petrino. His former coach helped him become detail-oriented and a fearless defender on the field.
“I think my physicality and size combines well with my game,” Graham Jr. said. “I am a taller defender in the hybrid (linebacker/safety) position. Just being able to play multiple positions helps me in the box. I think it translated to the success on the field.”
The versatility hasn’t gone unnoticed. Several teammates are glad to have Graham Jr. as an ally on the field.
“It’s good to have him as we know we have that extra help,” Legends defensive tackle T.J. Barnes said. “He is not afraid to lay a hit and is an extra security blanket for us.”
His physicality also extends to special teams. Graham Jr. is a key protector on punt coverage and tasked with controlling field position.
“He is a hard-working kid and does a fantastic job on the field,” Legends special teams coordinator Mark Criner said. “He has a nose for the ball and works well on special teams. He takes pride in it and shows great effort.”
As the season progresses, Graham Jr. plans to continue his hot start. Whether it’s working on technique or reading coverage, he plans to leave it all on the field.
For a guy who comes from in humble beginnings, it’s the only way to operate.
“I just want to do everything I can to help put this team in the best possible situations to win,” Graham Jr. said. “I think a lot of that goes to my coaches, the technique and the calls given. I want to execute everything being thrown at me.”
Somewhere not far behind, the beast will be lurking, as well.
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Jaylon Thompson covers the Atlanta Legends for The Alliance of American Football. Follow him on Twitter JaylonThompson.