By Beverly Keller
Imagine a southern university with an enrollment nearly nine times the population of Sugarcreek and you’d be picturing Clemson in South Carolina with a whopping 19,402 students on campus.
For Sugarcreek-native Graham Neff, the campus and South Carolina are home as he serves as the Deputy Athletic Director at the university.
This grad of Georgia Tech originally finished the educational race with a degree in Civil Engineering. Now one might ask how does that degree pave the way for work as an Athletic Director. Well, the answer can be found in basketball. “Basketball is my first love,” Graham Neff said. “I loved sports and college athletics. I was the manager for the Georgia Tech team before I graduated. I knew I wanted to do something with athletics but certainly did not want to be a coach.”
Neff used his degree in engineering and worked with Deloitte and Touche for a bit before deciding to go back to school for his MBA in finance. “I have put those skills to use here,” he said. “I look at finance and budgets and fundraising as well as revenue generation. But, I also work with coaching agents on contracts.”
For Neff, no two days are exactly alike and that is something that keeps him sharp. “The coolest thing about my job is the variety,” he said. “I just had a meeting with a construction company about a project. I’ve recently met with our online ticket sales company to talk about how we can increase those numbers. Later today, I will go down to football practice and interact with the players and coaches, watching what is going on.”
The rewards of the job are also part of what keeps Neff motivated. “It is really rewarding to see our students and coaches succeed on the field,” he said. “Seeing how hard these kids work and prepare, knowing that we are giving them all the available tools to succeed is the other side of the coin. It is great to enjoy those moments.”
When it comes to life lessons, Neff noted that there has been one adage that rings true for him. “Bloom where you are planted,” he said. “Wherever you are, big town, small town, top of the ladder or the bottom, bloom where you are planted.”
Neff noted that he has been in smaller places including Middle Tennessee University that is much smaller than Clemson. There he was the Associate Athletic Director. Prior to that position, Neff was the Financial Controller and Director of Ticket Operations at Georgia Tech.
At the age of just 35, Neff holds a position that has been traditionally reserved for people at least 10 and sometimes even 20 years older than he is. Yet, Neff speaks of his calling as a seasoned veteran. “There is a long burn and churn of things that make everything flow here,” he said. “There may be some mundane, but the moments when I’m working but not working are some of the best from football to basketball as well as soccer and baseball and all the other sports we support here at the university.”
While Neff may no longer call Sugarcreek his home, having grown up in the Atlanta, Georgia area as a graduate of Parkview High, Neff frequently makes trips to the area to his father, Kim, and other family members. “I enjoy coming back and driving down Dover Road,” he said. “There are many memories there.”
Neff is married to Kristin and together they have a 2-year-old son, Grady. Kristin is originally from Wadsworth, Ohio but was raised in Nashville, Tennessee. “We both hold Ohio and our families close to heart and visit them as often as we can,” he said.