Graham reaches one goal


Florida running back Earnest Graham runs for a short gain against Michigan's Julius Curry #26 and Charles Drake #24 Wednesday in the Outback Bowl in Tampa.

(DOUG FINGER/The Gainesville Sun)
Published: Thursday, January 2, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 2, 2003 at 2:49 a.m.
TAMPA - Entering the 2002 season, Florida had more than its share of things it wanted to accomplish.
The Gators wanted to beat an intrastate rival. They weren't close in losses to Miami and Florida State.
Florida wanted to win the SEC East. Close, but again the Gators couldn't quite do it.
Get Rex Grossman the Heisman Trophy. Well, that dream died early in the season.
Win nine games for the 13th straight year. Florida was a win short of that one.
We won't even get into any goals involving the national picture.
But one of the goals entering this season was to improve the running game. That one was accomplished.
With the NCAA rules now changed to include bowl games in season statistics, Earnest Graham finished with 1,080 yards, becoming the first Florida running back to rush for more than 1,000 yards since Fred Taylor went for 1,292 in 1997. Graham joins an elite group of Gator runners who have eclipsed that mark, joining Jimmy DuBose, Errict Rhett, Emmitt Smith, Neal Anderson and Fred Taylor.
Graham was one of the bright spots on an otherwise dark day for the Gators. He finished with 120 yards and two touchdowns and was the most effective Florida offensive player all day long. Graham finished the season with 11 touchdowns, tying him for sixth on Florida's all-time chart.
Graham was not made available to talk to the media after Wednesday's loss, but Florida coach Ron Zook said he was pleased with the way Graham and Ran Carthon (56 yards) played.
"We were in a situation where we were running the ball more," Zook said. "We didn't have the luxury of just being able to run the football. When we were down by two scores, we were throwing the ball more than running. Usually when you have 180 yards rushing, you feel pretty good about that."
What Zook can't feel very good about is losing Graham to the NFL. After four seasons as Florida's most consistent runner, Carthon should have his hands full trying to effectively replace Graham.
"It's tough to lose a guy like that," Carthon said. "But I'm going to be ready. I told our linemen that if they do what they can, then I'll definitely be able to show what I can do."
Carthon was already effective as the No. 2 option among the runners. He rushed for 555 yards and five touchdowns and seems poised to replace Graham the same way Graham was ready to step in four years ago.
"I'm ready," Carthon said. "I'm ready to show that we're a lot better than an 8-5 team."
You can reach Dylan B. Tomlinson by calling 374-5054 or by e-mail at tomlind@gvillesun.com

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