New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham capped off a stellar 2011 campaign with a trip to the Pro Bowl and since then has crammed several things into his 2012 offseason.
While he has worked on acquiring his pilot certification, hosting a youth football camp and appeared on a number of television shows, he hasn't forgotten what has provided him with his new platform: improving his game on the field.
Graham enters the first full offseason of his career after posting his best year statistically. The former University of Miami (Fla.) basketball standout was able to record 1,310 yards on 99 catches while adding 11 touchdowns last season, becoming only the second tight end to gain more than 1,300 yards receiving in NFL history. He was rewarded with a trip to the Pro Bowl in Hawaii.
"I went to the Pro Bowl and it was an amazing experience," said Graham. "To be in Hawaii playing with Drew Brees, three members of our offensive line (Jermon Bushrod, Jahri Evans and Carl Nicks), as well as guys like Tony Gonzalez, it was a great time. I would have loved to have been in the Super Bowl but to be selected to the Pro Bowl is such an honor."
Following the all-star game appearance, Graham turned his attention back to the skies in New Orleans and in Miami, where he keeps an offseason home, while training to become a pilot. He received his pilot's license and is currently earning certifications to allow himself to fly between the Magic City and Crescent City. Locally, Graham also enjoys seeing some familiar sites at a different angle.
"It's cool to fly over the (Mercedes-Benz) Superdome," said Graham. "I am able to take friends, family and teammates up and show them the city from a different aspect. That's pretty cool."
One flight out of town Graham took over the offseason was to appear on Oprah's Lifeclass program, which airs on the talk show legend's cable network.
Graham was honored to be involved as he was able to meet with Oprah and talk about his upbringing to help inspire others.
"When I was on Oprah, it was great to meet her," said Graham. "She is very inspiring. To have the opportunity to meet with her and share my story was pretty incredible."
Graham also hosted a football camp at Tulane University in May. The camp hosted more than 300 kids between the ages of nine and 14 and raised money for Boy's Town Louisiana, an organization that provides housing and life lessons to youth that have been removed from their homes.
Graham was very excited to interact and help support the local community.
"It was everything that I wanted it to be," said Graham. "I wanted to the kids to be active and learning the whole time. I interacted with every one of them and had a great time teaching and playing."
Entering minicamp after a busy winter and spring, Graham has returned his complete focus back to football and hopes to take advantage of his first full offseason in the NFL.
He is excited about being at the team's Metairie practice facility, working and learning with his fellow tight ends. Graham also counts on Assistant Head Coach/Linebackers Coach Joe Vitt, Offensive Coordinator Pete Carmichael and Tight Ends Coach Terry Malone to help him learn and prepare for the upcoming season.
"I'm a young player, and I'm young to the game, so everyday is a learning experience for me," said Graham. "I still remain focused and wanting to get better because that's why I live - to play football and get better every offseason."