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Iowa Football native Aaron Graves arrives with a college degree and aspirations


On a Thursday night in early May, Southeast Valley athlete Aaron Graves had other things on his mind than sports.

A shot putter for his track team, Graves, a prospective football recruit from Iowa, took part in preparation for the upcoming state championship meeting beginning this week in Des Moines. Between tosses, his mind was on a final homework that was due by midnight.

“I asked him at the meeting, ‘How was your last final exam?'” his mother, Amber Graves, said. “He’s like, ‘Oh, I have yet to do it. I was planning on doing it after the meeting.'”

The track meeting ended after 10 p.m. that evening. Graves completed the task at 11:15 p.m., with 45 minutes.

Oh, the score of his last bet? 95 out of 100.

His final exam wasn’t for one of his high school courses, either. It was a language course offered at Iowa Central Community College.

And that grade made Aaron Graves the youngest college graduate in his family.

“I don’t think it really worked out that day until he was done with that finale,” his mother said.

More: Small-town Iowa star Aaron Graves is the youngest Iowa football recruit of the Kirk Ferentz era. That’s why he’s destined for rare exploits

This summer, Graves will enroll in Iowa, where he hopes to maintain the academic momentum that began when he and his mother visited him to take college courses as a high schooler.

“I always knew the tuition would be free,” said Aaron Graves, one of the nation’s top recruits. “I really didn’t think I was going to get the (associate’s degree) until a little later, when I saw how many credits I really needed and my mom laid out the schedule of what I would actually need to do to achieve that.”

“And I thought, ‘Why not?'”

His two lives connected that evening on May 5th when he missed the ICCC spring graduation ceremony at an athletics meet.

“I don’t think it’s really hit me yet, either,” Graves said. “I didn’t even go to graduation because I was at a track and field meeting. When I thought about it, I was like, ‘Wow, I’m really going to graduate from Iowa more than the other guys in my class.’ It’s something I don’t really understand, what an achievement that is.”

He won’t just stand out in the classroom in Iowa.

In a matter of weeks, he will be joining the Hawkeyes football team as a highly acclaimed member of their 2022 recruit class. The 6-foot-5, 260-pound pass rusher comes to Iowa City as one of the nation’s top 150 recruits.

“He just wants to be successful at everything in life,” said Amber Graves. “He wants to get an ‘A’ in everything. That’s the way he is.”

More: The Iowa football program is hiring its first recruit for 2022: Southeast Valley DE Aaron Graves

Grave’s passion for school led to an early graduation

From an early age, Aaron Graves was a whiz kid. His mother remembers that he read books and solved countless mysteries.

“He had just turned two and we had these magnets on our fridge,” Amber Graves said. “The magnets were all letters (of the alphabet) and he knew each one and all the sounds. I said, ‘Wow, that’s good. Nice job Aaron!’”

In eighth grade, Aaron and his mother heard about a Southeast Valley student who was graduating from Iowa Central with an associate degree. Amber Graves is the school nurse at ICCC and asked if Aaron would be interested in doing the same. He was.

His athletic achievements are well documented, but Graves prides himself on being a star. He will be one of a handful of Southeast Valley seniors to graduate with a 4.0 at their graduation Sunday afternoon.

“When I was a freshman or sophomore and I got like a ‘C’ on an assignment, I was mentally ruined for the rest of the day,” Graves said. “I’d be pissed about a few missed questions throughout the day, I think that’s the competitive nature in me.”

More: Iowa Football Has An Incredible Start To Its 2024 Recruiting Class: What’s Next For The Hawkeyes?

Amber Graves described the process as a “giant jigsaw puzzle” of trying to piece together the right high school and college classes for credit for both degrees. She credits the ICCC, Southeast Valley consultants and Aaron’s Talented And Gifted teachers through Southeast Valley with making this possible. Some of his coursework over four years included athletic training; Statistics; Physics; Introduction to Religion and Public Speaking.

In the end, Graves finished ICCC with a 3.9 GPA, just missing a 4.0 average up to that point. The class that ruined his lifetime average: medical terminology where he says he got an “88 or an 89.”

A sense of pride and relief washed over the Graves family when Aaron became a dual graduate. Looking ahead to the next few years in Iowa, Amber Graves hopes the experience has helped him prepare for life as a collegiate athlete in Iowa.

“I hope it gives him the confidence to try new things,” said Amber Graves. “He did something that was tough and successful and I just hope that catches on while he works in college. I think it’s a great confidence builder to do something that was difficult and now he can look to the next difficult thing to do.”

More recruiting news from Hawkeye: Iowa football secures 2023 3-star safety Zach Lutmer signing a day after bid

Expectations remain high outside of the classroom as well

Athletically, Graves is one of the most prolific to come out of Iowa in recent memory. At 6-foot-5 and 265 pounds, he made his name as the dominant two-way lineman for Southeast Valley High. He will play on the defensive line for the Hawkeyes and his football resume includes two All-Iowa elite teams selected by the Des Moines Register.

That fall, he led the way to Southeast Valley’s first state championship in 2021. But that’s not all.

Graves is a four-sport athlete. He is the school’s all-time leading scorer in basketball (1,356 points), all-time leading scorer in track and field shot put (52 ft, 2 inches), and is a two-time district champion and two-time fourth-placed state wrestler.

Graves signed for Iowa as a freshman in 2019 and never wavered. He is the second highest prospect in his class in 2022 as a four-star recruit and the No. 128 player in the country, according to 247sports. His brief enlistment closed the door to other likely Power 5 offers.

Graves never remembered being a key recruit. He approached the recruitment process with the same business-like approach he takes in the classroom.

“I could be a two-star hotel or a five-star hotel, and I don’t think it would change how good I really am about myself,” Graves said. “My friends always tell me I could have done all these visits across the country, and it’s like, ‘Yeah, but I’ve known where I wanted to go since I was young, so I didn’t see the need to go mine waste time or a coach’s time.’

“I committed[to Iowa]right as I made the offer and I haven’t looked back.”

More: Leistikow: Iowa Football Lessons from the 2022 NFL Draft

Graves is still in the mix for more high school awards. He will compete in the shot put at the Iowa Track and Field Championships beginning Thursday. He’s still in the season but also has his eye on football. In addition to his exercise schedule, he works out four times a week, runs five times a week, and sticks to a diet plan of eating four meals a day in preparation for his arrival on campus.

“What drives him is just the way he’s built,” said Amber Graves. “He’s always been a goer. He always wants to be busy. He’s happier when he’s busy. He likes to know what’s next, what the next goal is.”

What is Aaron Graves’ next big goal?


WATCH: Iowa Football signs Aaron Graves after winning Southeast Valley state championship

Southeast Valley’s Aaron Graves talks about the Jaguars Class 2A state title being no longer a kicker and what’s next for the high school senior.

Alyssa Hertel, Des Moines Register

Graves enrolls in Iowa in June. No wonder: he wants to get a master’s degree there. He plans to study physiology in the university’s exercise science program. He would like to be a strength and conditioning coach.

Graves is a legend in the weight room. He deadlifts 525 pounds, squats 470 pounds, bench presses 345 pounds, and power cleans 325 pounds.

“I love helping my teammates lift,” Graves said. “Seeing them progress makes me really proud that I could be a part of that. I just like to see how athletes develop.”

On the field there will be no pressure for Graves to contribute early with the depth the Hawkeyes are bringing back to their defensive line. But given his physical attributes, defensive line coach Kelvin Bell is eager to add him.

“Aaron is going to come in here looking like the other guys that have been here for three or four years,” Bell said of Graves this spring. “The challenge is that he didn’t get a Covid year with Coach Bell learning the ins and outs of the system, nor the 15 (spring drills) that our early enrollers had. So he’s going to come in and physically look like Tarzan, we just have to get him to be like Tarzan. But I’m glad he’s here, trust me.

More: Is Iowa football’s defensive line ready to make a big leap? Experience says so.

Before he gets to Iowa, Graves has more time than maybe ever before. He plans to get more sleep, attend graduations, play a few rounds of golf, and gather whatever he needs to move to campus.

When he arrives, he will be looking for the “next big thing” he wants to achieve. He keeps perspective for everything he aspires to.

“When I’m older, I don’t want to have regrets and think about what could have been if I’d worked harder,” Graves said. “So put in all the work now to see how good I can get and I don’t think I’ll end up regretting it. If that leads to an NFL career or just a college career, I’ll be able to live with it because I’ve been busting my ass the whole time.”

Kennington Lloyd Smith III covers Iowa Hawkeyes football and men’s basketball for the Des Moines Register. You can connect to Kennington Twitter @SkinnyKenny_ or email him at [email protected]

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