Shortly after being hired as the head coach at Madison (Miss.) Central High, Peterson began going to the Jaguars’ basketball games to watch his star tight end.
“I didn’t get to develop an early relationship with him, but I went to basketball games,” Peterson said. “I watched him play and saw that he was a really tall kid, athletic kid. I knew I was getting a good athlete.”
Gunter, a three-star prospect and Arkansas commit, led the basketball team to the Mississippi Class 6A state championship game, where they lost to Starkville 43-40 in overtime.
He gave his team a chance to force a second overtime by hauling in a rebound in the closing seconds and passing it out to a teammate, but the three-point attempt failed.
The loss marked the beginning of Gunter’s time with his new head coach, who had a hard time establishing a connection with him because of his quiet nature.
“I started to get to know Grayson a little bit,” Peterson said. “It took a little while to figure out if he was normally quiet or if he just didn’t like me.”
That question was answered once Peterson saw how well Gunter ran and caught the ball.
With a 40-yard dash time around 4.6 seconds and a 6-foot-6, 220-pound body, Peterson began creating plans to use Gunter in the offense.
“Any time you have a SEC tight end, you definitely want to do some stuff with him, with some crossing routes and some other stuff over the middle and some corner routes,” Peterson said. “That was something he had not done very much in the past.
“He really liked the stuff we were doing to try to utilize him as a tight end.”
Peterson faced Madison Central and Gunter last season as the head coach at Brandon (Miss.) High, but because it was the first game of the season, he did not get to watch any film of Gunter leading up to the game, which Madison Central won 21-14.
Instead, the first time Peterson got to see the big tight end in any type of football action was during 7-on-7 this summer.
“He was learning our offense and getting a lot of new stuff for him,” Peterson said. “So much of the stuff Grayson was used to was running to a hole and sitting down. He’s a 4.6 guy. We don’t want him running in a hole and sitting down. We want him on the move.”
Peterson said that during the 7-on-7, Gunter played well and was able run after the catch.
The new style should increase Gunter’s numbers, as he caught 21 passes for 232 yards as a junior. It could also help Madison Central in general, as the team missed the playoffs for the first time since 2002 after going 6-5 last season.
An increase in Gunter’s production won’t necessarily lead to a better record, though, because the Jaguars have an SEC West-like schedule.
“The rankings are coming out and we’re not ranked in the top 10, but five of our opponents are ranked No. 1, 2, 3, 4 and 6 in the state,” Peterson said. “That’s pretty good motivation right here.”
One thing Gunter won’t have to worry about this season is his recruitment. He committed to Arkansas in June, choosing the Razorbacks over offers from Mississippi State and others.
He told Scout that he is solid with Arkansas, even if Ole Miss, where his dad played football, offers down the road.
While Peterson said he thinks there was some pressure for him to stay in state, he is confident Gunter made the right decision.
“I think (kids) grow up in Mississippi watching Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Southern Miss, Jackson State and those guys, so I think as a little boy, you always dream about playing for your school in the state,” Peterson said. “But at the same time… Grayson’s trying to figure out what’s best for his career.
“If you’re a tight end, you look at Arkansas and they’re lining up with two tight ends, sometimes three tight ends in a game. You have to say, ‘Hey, this might be what’s best.’”