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Mormons in Sports: Former college QB suits up for mission field

Published: Tuesday, Oct. 4 2011 5:00 a.m. MDT

Typically, Mormon football players serve their two-year LDS missions before starting their college careers, or they go after one year.

Nick Graziano of Moraga, Calif., played his entire college career first and is now learning Portuguese at the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah. The former college quarterback is going to preach the gospel in the Brazil Porto Alegre mission.

An article in the San Jose Mercury News and Oakland Tribune, by Alex Espinoza, chronicles Graziano’s roller-coaster football career that led to his decision to serve the Lord.

As a sophomore at Campolindo High School, Graziano, started out playing running back and linebacker, but moved to quarterback when the junior varsity QB was promoted to the varsity squad. Graziano was so good that coaches kept him in the pocket. Graziano threw for 5,991 yards and 71 touchdowns in two seasons and was an all-state selection as a senior. He was showered with all kinds of recognition, honors and accolades.

Each summer during high school, according to the Mercury News, Graziano and his teammates attended football camps at the University of Nevada-Reno and coach Chris Ault eventually offered Granziano a scholarship.

Things went well at first. Graziano, 6-foot-1, 220-pounds, made his debut in the fall of 2006 and played in eight games. He became the starter for Wolfpack in 2007, but only played in five games before suffering a season-ending foot injury against Fresno State. He was replaced by talented freshman Colin Kaepernick, which marked the end of his career at Nevada. (Kaepernick became a 4-year starter and is now in his rookie season as the backup quarterback with the San Francisco 49ers.)

Following the 2008 season, Graziano was ready to transfer. He and some roommates began looking for potential schools on the Internet. “One of them looked at me and said, ‘Hey Graz, why don’t you go be a Wonder Boy?’ ” he told Espinoza. Less than a week later, “Graz” was bound for Arkansas Tech University in Russellville, Ark.

Within days, the California kid had fallen in love with the southern lifestyle and drawl. Graziano went on to lead the Wonder Boys to their first playoff victory in years and was named a Division II all-American. He threw for more than 4,300 yards and 38 touchdowns in 12 games and was named a top-three finalist for the Harlon Hill trophy, Division II’s equivalent of the Heisman. He finished third.

“I guess it was where I was meant to go,” said Graziano, an Eagle Scout. “I can see how it was meant to be, just from the experiences I had.”

His days in the Ozarks over, Graziano returned to Nevada to earn his degree in civil engineering and worked out for NFL teams. Despite interest from San Francisco and Dallas, Graziano decided it was time to serve a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Before he left, Espinoza compared Graziano’s situation to Kaepernick’s. Graziano said he has no regrets.

“I guess he’s serving football and I’m serving God,” Graziano told the Mercury News. “He’s doing what he wants to do and I’m doing what I want to do.”

Email: ttoone@desnews.com Twitter: tbtoone

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