This isn’t easy. Especially not for an elite-level receiver at both the high school and junior college levels, who naturally expected to make a fast transition to SEC action. The good news is few doubt Donald Gray will get it done…
…in time. And, once he’s handled the other-side of college life. This, Gray freely said, is what is taking the real time.
“For the most part the responsibility off the field. You know, go through a lot of behavioral changes. Maturity, kind of earn my trust with the receivers and the coaches. Kind of show them I can handle it.”
There, he said it for himself. No coach nor teammate needed to state the case. And that is a big mark in Gray’s favor. Many a juco star arrives on the senior college scene expecting instant status and acceptance. Well, the acceptance is already here in one sense. The Bulldog locker room has accepted him just fine.
Away from the practice field? That’s where Gray is remaking himself. “Just the small things you can change.”
Coming to Mississippi State has been a change in itself. Of course Gray intended to have been in Maroon and White two years ago after signing with Coach Dan Mullen’s 2013 class. A junior college detour wasn’t a terrible second-choice though. First, he was able to use that first fall out of Memphis White Station High to heal an injured ankle.
Second, Gray got to play in a good Copiah-Lincoln CC program where he became a national top-ten juco receiver prospect. So by re-signing with Mississippi State, he has three full seasons still ahead.
Even better, Gray reported in spring and has 15 of those practices under the belt. Now he’s two days into August drills.
“I’m pretty confident, pretty comfortable with everything. I went through spring so it’s almost neck-and-neck.”
Coach Billy Gonzales has assigned Gray to one of the outside receiver positions. “The Z,” clarifies Gray. With his JC reputation and stats some thought he might bolt to the top of the depth chart immediately. Things went a little slower as it turned out.
“In spring when I first got here I was rotating with the 3s. Toward the end they gave me a shot with the 1s, they gave me a feel. Right now it’s with the 2s, rotating in and out.”
It wasn’t missed by observers that during Monday’s initial period of two-minute offense, Gray wasn’t in the top rotations on either split-side. So yes, he is still working his way up into the second unit. How long might it take? Let’s just say the opportunity is there to prove himself, even in a deep and competitive group.
“It doesn’t really affect me, as long as I find a way to contribute to the team and just earn everybody’s trust.” By the way, based on spring also, it won’t be a surprise at all if Gray finds his way into the kick return role. Maybe even some kick coverage, a reflection on his all-around athletic gifts.
Still running routes and catching passes is what Gray came here to do. He certainly understands the differences from juco to seco by now. For one, “DBs are a lot faster!” For another, Coach Rick Court’s workouts are a whole ‘nother world. “You want to go home for a couple of days and put you on bed rest!”
Otherwise, it’s “Game speed, weight room, conditioning. There’s a lot of athletes in the SEC that used to be the main guy in their high school. You’ve got a lot of individuals when you put in the same spot, that’s a lot of talent. So you have to put in extra work and work on the small things to stick out. Because everybody is a baller.”
Gray naturally figures he is one of them, too. If achieving such status hasn’t been as quick as everyone wants, the larger point is Gray knows his challenges and is working on them without complaint. Or as he put it, he will welcome what is thrown at him and accept it.
“Take it a day at a time. You’re not going to be able to get everything in one day. You have to be open and have room for mistakes. It’s just a process. And when you have guys around you to help you out, welcome you, make you feel you’ve been here, it makes it easier.”