By Joe Davidson
In the end, it came down to the challenges out of state - and someday, up in the air.
Dano Graves, statistically the most outrageously impressive quarterback to march through the Sacramento region and equally as impressive skill and desire wise, has given a verbal commitment to play scholarship football at the Air Force Academy, he told The Bee tonight.
The Bee Player of the Year who also landed the Cal-Hi Sports Mr. Football State Player of the Year and MaxPreps National Player of the Year was deciding between Air Force and Sacramento State. He took a recruiting trip to Air Force in Colorado Springs last month and visited Sac State over this past weekend.
Graves said it was a difficult decision but was greatly intrigued by the academic, football and military combination at Air Force. That Air Force seems to specialize in the prolific, dangerous quarterback in an option-attack certainly helped, too.
"I feel like it's a great opportunity, the biggest challenge of my life, a great education, a chance to play at the highest level - and the opportunity to fly someday," Graves said with excitement and relief in his voice. "The opportunities for me when I graduate are amazing.
"And I'm never afraid of challenges. Challenges are what wakes me up every morning."
Graves weighed the five-year military commitment that comes with the five-year scholarship with the chance to lead Sac State just down Highway 50 from his Folsom roots. Graves is something of a town hero in Folsom, where family and friends have watched him excel for years, from youth football championships to a 14-1 run this season with the Bulldogs.
When there was a parade in Folsom to celebrate the season, Graves was the man of the hour, typically humbled and embarrassed - yet deeply proud - by the applause.
A master at his position in the Folsom spread offense as a passer with the ability to make all the throws and also elusive and fast in the open field as a runner, Graves amassed astounding numbers as a senior. Grant coach Mike Alberghini said Graves was "a Houdini act" and was the most difficult player to prepare for and defend in his 40-plus seasons of coaching.
Graves scored a total of six touchdowns against Grant to spur 41-20 victory over the state-ranked No. 1 Pacers in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division II championship game. Two weeks later, Graves accounted for six more touchdowns in the mud and muck to upend Serra-Gardena 48-20 in the State D-II Bowl Game in Carson. Serra came in with a 29-game winning streak.
All told, Graves passed for 3,702 yards and 62 touchdowns. He had just six interceptions on 363 attempts in completing 65 percent of his throws. In addition, Graves rushed for 994 yards and 23 scores. His 85 total touchdowns as a senior set a state single-season mark, totals that landed him the state and national player of the year honors, the first area athlete to pull that double feat since tailback Kevin Willhite of Cordova in 1981.
Graves will formally sign his letter of intent on Wednesday on National Signing Day. Teammate Marcus Hendricks, a tight end/linebacker, will also sign with Air Force after recording eight sacks.
Section commissioner Pete Saco addressed the Folsom football team last week during a MaxPreps Tour of Champions presentation and pointed out Graves. He said, "If you go to the Air Force Academy, I'll be honored if you protect our country. You are a great man and a great football player."