Tanner Graham Chosen Tech’s Top Rugger

Tanner Graham Chosen Tech’s Top Rugger

Members of the New Mexico Tech Rugby Club have chosen Tanner S. Graham to receive the Jeremiah Wright Memorial Trophy as the university’s top rugby player during the 2015-2016 term. The 22-year old junior engineering student is the son of Debbie and Shannon Graham of Alamogordo, N.M. Other top vote getters included graduate student Fritz Hieb and graduating senior Brian Arko.


Tanner Graham (right) with the trophy and goblet representing the Jeremiah Wright Award.


The Jeremiah Wright Trophy is awarded in the memory of former NMT Rugby Club captain Jeremiah Wright of Raton, New Mexico, who died in a motor vehicle accident during his senior year in 2002. The trophy was constructed by Jeremiah’s high school coaches in 2003 and is on display at the NMT gymnasium. Since 2004 Wright Trophy recipients have been awarded engraved pewter mugs and had their names affixed to the trophy. They are: Mark Kelly, Rob Harrison, Phillip Turner, Seth Daly, Matt Majors, Matt Nelson, Jay Herrera, Isaiah Sanchez, Enrique Koerdell, Blaine Trujillo, Jason Lee, and John Mark Stiles. All recipients graduated from New Mexico Tech and have played rugby after college.

An avid baseball, football, and basketball player as a youth, Tanner Graham gained all-state honors as a tight end/defensive end at Alamogordo High School and played in the annual North vs. South all-star football game after his senior year in 2013. He entered West Texas A&M on a football scholarship but now says, “it was surely an experience to remember but I made the decision after a year in Texas to focus more on my studies. I transferred back to New Mexico to study at a school better for my degree.”

While Debbie and Shannon Graham encouraged Tanner and younger brother Hunter (also an all-state footballer) to play sports “they also made sure that school was a priority. My parents instilled many important qualities in me, most importantly respect and the value of hard work and the rewards it brings.”   

Tanner entered the mechanical engineering program at Tech in 2015. He soon met Pygmy Rugby Club member Carl Peart and the rest, as they say, is history; or in this case, his story:


Other End-Of-Year Honors:

Rising Star (outstanding new player): Dave Parsons

Most Improved: Dave Parsons

Most Valuable Back: John Mark Stiles

Most Valuable Forward: Nigel Ruckhaus

Best Attacker: Tanner Graham

Best Defender: John Mark Stiles

Favorite Teammate: Brian Arko 


“I came out to practice the next day, super shy, not knowing anyone at the school or anything about the game. I just kept coming out to practice every day I could. I quickly became friends with everyone on the team. We started having matches and I was hooked. As time went on, I transitioned from playing forward to playing in the back line, but honestly rugby is fun at any position.”

Tanner completed his third semester of rugby this spring. At 6 feet two inches and 225 pounds of muscle, the blond-haired center has been likened to a Viking by at least one opponent. He shows a surprising turn of pace for a big man and a coach-pleasing appreciation for proper tackling technique. As he learned to spot defensive gaps he’s became a regular try-scorer for his team, yet even more impressive is his penchant for setting up teammates with timely passes.

As much as he relishes the on-field aspects of rugby, Graham appreciates the universal camaraderie the game is known for. “After matches, we usually eat a meal and enjoy the company of the other team. We talk and learn things from each other. If you show up to a rugby tournament by yourself, a team will usually pick you up with open arms. I have never seen these kinds of acts playing in any other sport.”

Tanner’s respectful demeanor conceals a curious mind methodically absorbing his surroundings. Only on rare occasions - such as receiving a Jeremiah Wright cup - does the mild-mannered Graham offer advice: “One - You HAVE TO put in the work to get what you want. Two - Set goals and make a plan to accomplish them, even if it’s mentally. Three - Read books, watch videos, and talk to different people to learn as much as you can. Four - Take care of your mind and body.

“If I were to give some tips about success in sports it would be ‘same as above.’”

The good news for the Pygmies – but not opponents – is that Tanner Graham will be back in the fall, eager to validate the honor his teammates have bestowed. “I am genuinely honored to receive this award because of the meaning behind it and also because I stand amongst the great Pygmies who have received it before me.”

-- NMT --