Fifth-year Gryphon Andrew Graham will anchor a young linebacking crew in OUA football play this season.“It’s different definitely being one of the older guys on the defence,” he said following Tuesday’s workouts at Alumni Stadium. “You always look up to those fifth years so now it’s kind of crazy that that’s the shoes that you’re in, but I like that. I like having that role, being a leader for this defence and helping these young guys come along.”The Gryphs will have a different look at linebacker this year with the departure of John Rush, President’s Trophy winner as top defensive player in Canadian university football last year, and Curtis Newton. Rush used up his five years of eligibility while Newton caught on with the Toronto Argos after they drafted him in the fifth round, 40th overall, of the CFL draft in May.“It’s tough to replace guys like John Rush and Curtis Newton,” Graham said. “We’re not trying to be the next John Rush or Curtis Newton, we’re just trying to be guys who are going to go in and do our job for this defence and work as hard as we can each and every day and keep learning to try to be the best that we can be for this team and this defence.”Rush and Newton combined for 100 tackles, four interceptions and four fumble recoveries during the regular season last season. Of this year’s returnees, Graham had 28.5 tackles, Derek Drouillard 21.5 and Luke Korol 14.5.“The key for the defence this year is just going to be our speed,” Graham said. “We have an unbelievable back end with our DBs, so the speed that those guys have and the speed of our linebackers, that’s what’s going to help us really be successful this year. It’s just getting 12 guys flying to the ball on every play and just rallying around that thing and just suffocating the ball carrier.”The Gryphs enter the season as the defending OUA champions, but Graham says that’s in the past.“The Yates Cup champions were last year,” he said. “We don’t talk about that stuff. I don’t think anyone in this locker room is satisfied with what we accomplished last year. We’re just looking forward to 2016 and doing bigger and better things. That’s our focus. The past is the past. We can look back and celebrate those accomplishments when we’re old 40-year-old guys, but right now we’re focusing on 2016 and taking it week by week and trying to win that next game.”Graham’s off-season was a little different this year following a pair of injuries suffered last year.“This has been a really interesting off-season for me,” he said. “I had a broken foot all of last season that I played with and I broke my arm against Montreal in the Mitchell Bowl. I had to take about four months off rehabbing. Over the last 10 years, that’s the longest I’ve been without playing football so it was definitely an interesting experience for me, but it really gave me that opportunity to sit back and really evaluate. I took mental reps each and every day and I think I’m hitting the field better than I was before the injury so I’m pretty happy about that.”He also credits the work under the guidance of Gryphon strength and conditioning coach Jordan Foley for getting him ready to return to the field.“He keeps us all in peak physical condition,” Graham said. "Once I was ready to start lifting again, he got me ready for the season and I feel great out there.“This is the longest I’ve gone without hitting someone in the last 10 years so these reps mean so much more, especially with me being in my fifth year, this is my last year. I don’t take anything for granted. Not a single rep at practice, not a single film meeting. Nothing. It’s just a great time to be with the guys and just enjoy it on my way out and make the most of it.”The Gryphons have put together 7-1 regular-season campaigns each of Graham’s four years with the team.“When I first came here, the season before I came here they were 2-6 so we had a lot of work to do. Mentality wise, we had to change some things,” he said. “Now we have such an established team with so many veteran players. We’re bringing in top recruits each and every year and now we’re taking a more focused approach where we’re not trying to kill guys as much, we’re just trying to make sure that we’re getting high-quality reps each and every practice. The tempo has changed a little bit, but I think where we’re at, this is the best format I’ve ever seen for our camps and every guy is really loving it right now.”As with last year’s Yates Cup win, Graham also considers the stretch of 7-1 seasons in the past.“We’re just trying to take it week by week,” he said. “Right now we’re just focusing on ourselves and we’ve got a scrimmage against McMaster and we’ll focus on that and then it’s U of T. I don’t know who we play Week 2, I’ll figure that out after we play Toronto here. We don’t focus too much on 7-1 or whatever, we just try to focus on the next game, the next opponent and what we have to do to overcome them. If you focus on the future, you’re going to mess up the present so we just try to focus on what we can control, and that’s this upcoming opponent. We’ll focus on the next one when we get there.”The Gryphons are to play a controlled scrimmage against the McMaster Marauders Sunday at 1 p.m. at Alumni Stadium. They’re to open their regular season at home against the Toronto Varsity Blues Aug. 28 at 1 p.m.