Darcy Graham has emerged from the Hawick RFC abyss with an Edinburgh contract and hope for the future.
The full-back and winger, one of the few players to come out of a disastrous 2016/17 BT Premiership campaign with any credit, has his sights set on making an impact in his new Edinburgh rugby home and developing into Scotland’s next great.
“It’s always been rugby for me,” said Graham in an interview this week.
Graham’s first act of becoming one of the premier talents in Scottish club rugby and recognised internationally with the under 20s, is all but settled as a success. His second act – to become a star on the professional stage – is only just beginning.
“It was always my goal [to become a professional rugby player], but at the same time I never expected it,” continued Graham.
“At the end of last season’s under 20’s World Cup I said to myself I wanted, a year from now, to have signed a professional contract or at least be pushing for one. I guess people say those kinds of things all the time, about what they want to achieve in a year etc, thankfully for me it turned out exactly how I wanted it to.
“But it was hard work to get what I wanted.”
Hard work is how Graham has found himself as the next promising talent to emerge from Mansfield Park.
The 19-year old speedster lit up the premiership in the green jersey this season contributing over a dozen tries while having a hand in a dozen more. He has featured as one of Scotland’s main attacking threats in his two years with the under 20s and has given opposing sides nightmares whenever he is found with the ball in open space. But that success has taken a special type of dedication and focus.
Rugby is made up of players of all shapes, sizes and skill sets that set them apart.
Everyone has a prototypical player for each position whether that be a 250-pound prop with mountains for shoulders or a 6ft 4in second-rower with an ability to jump ten feet in the air. Graham does not fit your prototypical profile for a winger or full-back.
The average height and weight of a professional winger/full-back is 6ft 1in and weighs between 180 – 200 pounds. Sitting at 5ft 8in and 165 pounds, Graham is undersized for his position but has been able to conquer those physical disadvantages with his elite level speed. Twelve months ago, Graham came to the conclusion that speed wasn’t going to carry him to the promised land of professional rugby. He decided if wasn’t going to grow taller he needed to grow wider.
“Size was always going to be an issue as I worked my way up in rugby,” admitted Graham.
“At the end of last season I realised that if I wasn’t going to get any taller I had to make sure I was physically able to handle bigger guys so I hit the gym hard to bulk up. Not to get huge, because I couldn’t put on weight at all, but to put enough size on to make sure I wasn’t losing both height and weight to my opposition.
“Being a stage three player in the SRU Borders Academy at Galashiels meant that I could train every day under professionals who could help guide me in bulking up.
“They helped with my nutrition and strength and conditioning. Making sure that I put on weight the right way as I didn’t want to bulk up and lose my speed skill, which is one of my biggest strengths.”
Graham, like recent products of the Hawick rugby system Ross Graham (Yorkshire Carnegie) and Stuart Hogg (Glasgow Warriors), is indebted to the Mansfield Park club in helping shape him into the player he is today, singling out head coach Nikki Walker for special praise.
“Everyone at Hawick has helped make me into the player I am today, most notably Nikki,” said Graham.
“He played my position at a very high level so it would have been stupid of me not to try and get as much training and help from him. He has helped me get a better understanding of the positon, fine-tune the little details that give you an edge.
“This time last year I was hopeless with the high ball, but working with Nikki he has helped be become a lot more confident with that aspect of the game and now I am happy to go up and compete for the ball. It is the little things that help get you to the next level and I think working with Nikki and everyone at Hawick and the Borders academy has helped get me to where I am now.
“I am looking forward to the next stage of my career but I will always remember what Hawick did for me.”