University of Florida

How committed is Lakeland’s Fenley Graham to the Gators? ‘It’s all the way.’

Lakeland High senior Fenley Graham scored a touchdown against Manatee High on Friday, Aug. 23, 2019 at Joe Kinnan Field at Hawkins Stadium in Bradenton, Florida. He then did the chomp in reference to his commitment to the Florida Gators.
Lakeland High senior Fenley Graham scored a touchdown against Manatee High on Friday, Aug. 23, 2019 at Joe Kinnan Field at Hawkins Stadium in Bradenton, Florida. He then did the chomp in reference to his commitment to the Florida Gators. jdill@bradenton.com

Fenley Graham took the direct snap, plowed forward and dove over the goal line. When he got to his feet, he ran deeper into the end zone and started demonstrating the gator chomp.

If there was any doubt over Lakeland High senior’s commitment to the Florida Gators, you weren’t going to find it Friday night inside Manatee High’s Joe Kinnan Field at Hawkins Stadium in Bradenton.

“It’s 100 percent, 130 at that,” Graham, who committed to the Gators during the summer, said after the game. “It’s all the way. No doubt.”

Graham, a consensus three-star prospect on the 247 Sports’ composite rankings, later performed the chomp after returning a punt for a touchdown, which was called back for a penalty. He also had a pick-six negated by penalty.

“I had to get one [chomp] in, because I didn’t last week,” Graham said. “I had to. So I got two of them in there.”

On the punt return, he sidestepped and switched fields to break free in the vein of former Florida State legend Peter Warrick, who starred on back-to-back state title teams at Bradenton’s Southeast High.

On Friday, Graham was all over the place showing his role as Mr. Versatility for Lakeland, the defending Class 7A state champs.

“He’s our most versatile athlete,” Lakeland head coach Bill Castle said following Friday’s 45-0 victory.

Graham said he wants to play defensive back in college, but will go anywhere the coaches need him to be. Castle said Graham is probably a defensive back/kick returner/athlete player at the next level.

“He just has great hips, speed, can turn ... good cover guy and a good hitter,” Castle said.

Graham blanketed Manatee receivers, including junior Irone Jackson, who has offers from Florida State, Georgia, Duke and other Power 5 programs, throughout Week 1 of the high school season.

In addition to his defensive skills, Graham also possesses on-field swag. Graham showed it Friday when teammate Kendall Dennis returned a punt for a touchdown and he broke into a dance as Dennis was scoring.

“Somebody’s gotta have swag,” Graham said. “So I’m going to bring the swag and I’m going to spread it. You’ve just got to carry it on with you. That’s all it is. I try to be the one to bring the juice to the team, keep the guys up and be a leader on the team and do what coach asks me to do.”

Graham was expected in attendance for last Saturday’s Florida-Miami game at Orlando’s Camping World Stadium, which is a short drive from Polk County.

But despite UF gaining three players from Lakeland High for its 2019 class — one, offensive lineman Deyavie Hammond, was ruled ineligible for not qualifying academically before the season — Gators fans shouldn’t expect Graham to be a recruiter for the Dreadnaughts’ other top 2020 class members such as Clemson-committed running back Demarkus Bowman or wide receiver Arian Smith.

“I’m not in their ear at all,” Graham said. “I just try to let the season go by, let the boys play and we’re focusing on straight Lakeland football right now.”

Committing to the Gators before the season was part of Graham’s plan, so he could just focus on his senior season with the ‘Naughts.

Now it’s here, and it’s off to a strong start.

Sports reporter Jason has covered high school, college and pro sports since joining the Bradenton Herald in 2010. He’s won Florida Press Club awards for sports feature and column writing. He currently writes college and pro sports stories for the McClatchy East Region real-time team.
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