The relationship between Tariq Woolen and Nick Graham began with a promise.

At the time, Woolen was a wiry third-year player at the University of Texas at San Antonio frustrated with a recent conversion to cornerback. As a redshirt freshman wide receiver in 2018, he produced just 15 catches for 158 yards and a touchdown. The following season was even less fruitful, with nine catches for 105 yards over six games before his head coach suggested a move to defense. Woolen reluctantly accepted.

Graham was part of a new UTSA staff in 2020. A former NFL defensive back with a short stint in the Canadian Football League, the cornerbacks coach was told by one of the Roadrunners’ analysts there was a kid he needed to check out — 6-foot-4 with 4.3 speed. Graham popped in the film of Woolen’s week of practice leading up the 2019 finale, his one and only game as a cornerback, and saw something special.

A player that tall, with that speed and fluid hips? Graham couldn’t believe it. “I was like, ‘God, I don’t know what I did to deserve this,’” he recalled.

Woolen was the definition of a blank slate, with no bad traits to unlearn. He needed work, but Graham knew if he was given the opportunity to coach him, Woolen would have a sky-high ceiling. Graham’s teachings would be all he knew.

He just had to get Woolen on board, and Woolen didn’t have much interest in playing cornerback. Graham was aware of this, but he had to at least make a pitch.

It was a strong one.

“Riq, if you’ll give me two years,” Graham said, “I’ll have you in the NFL.”

Woolen didn’t have many NFL connections outside of former UTSA teammates Kevin Strong and Marcus Davenport, two defensive linemen. Graham had only short-lived stints with the Eagles and Colts before heading to Canada, but his experience at the highest level was enough for Woolen to buy in. Being brand new to the position, Woolen was willing to put his faith in someone who made it to the league.