SRV Chicago coaches aspiring young athletes on and off the field

CHICAGO -- James Graham founded SRV Chicago in 2019 to bridge the gap and level the playing field for local athletes. The non-profit allows these high school students to work out every Sunday for free.

"My goal is to have every guy here have the opportunity to build a mindset of excellence. Leaving here, I want them to go to college. I want them to get their degrees. I want them to live outside the box," Graham said.

Graham, an athlete himself, was a walk-on running back for Illinois State University, where he was offered a scholarship. He then had the opportunity to play for the Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns.

"A lot of these kids want the same opportunities. They want to make it pro. They want to be a part of an elite group that gives them that same mindset that it takes to take it to the next level," he said.

Now, Graham has stepped into the role of father figure and mentor for these young men.

SRV member and high school athlete Ethan Middleton weighed in: "He does give a lot of fatherly like conversations and letting me know like it's rough in the streets, but you've got something you're doing that's productive and makes you want to work, want to strive to be great."

"I'm a reflection of them. I'm from the same community. It gives me an advantage to be relatable and actually understand what they're going through," Graham said.

But it's not just about their game, it's about their success on and off the field.

"My mindset changed a lot, my physique, my speed. Mentally he helps me a lot. He helps me stay off the street as well," said SRV member Malik Elzy.

Graham added, "They can look at me and know they can depend on me to be here, to show up, to give them my best."

For more on SRV Chicago, follow their Instagram @srvacademy.