The first thing you'll notice about Moraga native Nick Graziano is the drawl. You can blame Russellville, Ark., for that.

It wasn't Plan A for the 2005 Campolindo graduate to venture down to the land of the Ozarks, but it was the right plan for Graziano. And it all started with a roommate's sense of humor.

During January 2009, Graziano was living in Reno, attending the University of Nevada. Having lost his job as starting quarterback due to injury and a talented teammate, Graziano was looking for work elsewhere.

"Some of my roommates I was living with were being nice and looking on the Internet," Graziano said. "One of them looked at me and said, 'Hey Graz, why don't you go be a Wonder Boy?' "

Graziano's roommate cracked the joke on a Wednesday. By Sunday of that week, Graziano was already bound for Arkansas Tech University.

He went there to play football, but he found something else. It began with that first night, when he was all alone in his dorm room with no roommates, no cell phone and no phone charger.

"I get there and it's pitch black already and I get to my dorm room and my roommate's gone," Graziano said. "It's just a couple beds, a desk and four concrete walls. That first night it was just me and whoever I could talk to, which was God."

At the moment, Graziano is in Utah, probably brushing up on his Portuguese. He's going through a crash course on how to live in Porto Alegre, Brazil, where he will be for the next two years on his Mormon mission.


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Meanwhile, the talented teammate who knocked him down the depth chart at Nevada is brushing up on his Week 4 NFL playbook -- Colin Kaepernick, the backup quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers.

"I guess he's serving football and I'm serving God," Graziano said. "He's doing what he wants to do and I'm doing what I want to do."

Each summer during high school, Graziano and his teammates would ride the train up to Reno for a weeklong football camp. It was there that Graziano first caught the eye of Nevada's coaching staff, which eventually offered him a scholarship.

That he was going to become a Division I quarterback was an accomplishment in itself. Sure, he was one California's most prolific prep passers during his senior year, but Graziano wasn't always under center. In fact, he was only pressed into the quarterback duties out of necessity.

During his sophomore season at Campo in the fall of 2002, Graziano started out the year as a bruising running back and linebacker, wearing No. 44 and elbow pads. Once the junior varsity's quarterback was called up to varsity midway through the year, Graziano took over the signal calling, keeping his number and the elbow pads.

When you add the two No. 4s across his chest you get the No. 8, which is the number Graziano wore at Nevada and Arkansas Tech. Graziano made his collegiate debut in the fall of 2006 and earned the starting job a year later, making his first career start at Nebraska. But he suffered a season-ending injury five games into the season, paving the way for Kaepernick's career as one of the nation's elite dual-threat quarterbacks.

"We were friends," Kaepernick said. "We had a good relationship even though we were competing against each other. We would still joke around and have fun, but we would take care of business on the field."

Kaepernick said he also remembers Graziano often wore cowboy boots around campus, perhaps the first sign that Graziano had a little bit of the South in him. So as Nevada coach Chris Ault built the program around Kaepernick's arm and feet, Graziano felt the time was right to make a move.

He spent the 2008 season as Kaepernick's backup before the university released him from his scholarship. Aside from his desire to be a Wonder Boy, Graziano also chose Arkansas Tech for its pass-happy spread offense and its status as a Division II school, meaning he wouldn't have to sit out a year for NCAA transfer rules.

Within days, Graziano fell in love with the southern lifestyle. The hustle and bustle of the World's Biggest Little City had given way to simple, slow-paced nights on the porch with a little music and conversation. He also picked up the drawl pretty quick.

"I remember being there for about a month," Graziano said, "and I was talking to my mom and she said, 'Is this you, Nick? What are you saying y'all for?' "

Graziano's teammates noticed, too. His fellow Wonder Boy and best friend, Dan Martin, said Graziano was the atypical California boy (see: long-haired beach-goer).

Martin said he knew the Wonder Boys had a star quarterback by just watching Graziano during offseason workouts. By the time it came to huddle up for training camp and the regular season, Graziano was the undoubted captain of the team.

"The injury that happened to Nick -- a lot of people could feel sorry for themselves and hang their head," Martin said. "But he was able to accept fate and see what the plan is. I think it's worked out for everybody."

Graziano went on to lead the Wonder Boys to their first playoff victory in years, while being named a Division II All-American by several media outlets. He threw for more than 4,300 yards and 38 touchdowns in 12 games, en route to being named a top-three finalist for the Harlon Hill trophy, Division II's equivalent of the Heisman.

For his final game on senior day, Graziano was visited by Campolindo head coach Kevin Macy and former assistant Marc McGinn.

"I guess that was where I was meant to go," Graziano said. "And I can see how it meant to be, just from the experiences I had."

Graziano actually returned to Nevada to earn his degree in civil engineering and work out for NFL teams at the school's pro day earlier this year. Though the 49ers and Cowboys showed interest, Graziano had already made up his mind to go on a mission.

He's hung up his cleats since then, but Graziano is still a football fan. He was on the sidelines for Campolindo's season opener to watch his little brother, Vince, who isn't too little anymore. He's the 220-pound linebacker wearing No. 8.

The next two years of Graziano's life will consist of walking through southern Brazil, spreading the word of the Book of Mormon. He'll only be able to email or write his family once a week and can only call home on Christmas and Mother's Day.

It's been a long, strange trip, but Graziano said he's already planning on settling down once he returns from Porto Alegre. Chances are, you'll be able to find him on a big ranch somewhere with horses.

"Hopefully Montana might be calling my name one day or Idaho," Graziano said. "Something quiet."