“I’m fine with that role right now,” Donald Gray said. “It’s really self-explanatory. You have to wait your turn.”
That won’t set well with those impatient to watch Gray play more. He has only himself to blame, or his occasional and high-profile successes rather. When Gray grabbed four balls for 140 yards, including one brilliant grab when covered and another for a touchdown, against Northwestern State, questions of where has this guy been began.
Then came another remarkable play, as Gray turned an OK throw from backup QB Nick Fitzgerald into a highlight catch for touchdown. Again, with a defender—this time from Troy—right there. The drums have been beating ever since to get Gray in games earlier and oftener.
Just don’t tell the sophomore receiver that.
“It’s a process,” said Gray. “With every success comes some type of failure. I’m not a polished receiver yet as where I want to be.”
By now all should recognize that Gray is more than a special talent. He has a special perspective on his place in the Mississippi State game plans. Playing a position that attracts outsized egos and attitudes, the juco transfer might be the most level head in the meeting room.
Being second in this outside receiver position, why “It’s great! It’s perfect for me.”
It’s pretty Dog-goned great for the offense as well. See, fans can forget a fundamental football fact: for another receiver to be on the field means somebody has to leave it. And the player Gray backs up is one no fan wants to see on the State sideline.
Defenses? Oh heck yes, they want to see De’Runnya Wilson step off the playing field. Inside receiver Fred Ross has the most catches by far, 35 to 22; but ‘Bear’ Wilson averages more yards each touch and has scored three times to Ross’ one touchdown.
So when Wilson has to take breaks defenders think they’ve won something. Gray isn’t insulted, he’s excited not to get the same respect.
“A lot of teams are going to try to double-team him,” said Gray. “Once I get in there they don’t really know me! So they kind of take a step back.” And increasingly pay a price for it. In fact, with each grab Gray is blowing his low-profile, just like on his two outstanding touchdowns so far.
“Well, I mean, when opportunity presents itself I like to take it,” he grinned.
To get even more opportunities, though, means Gray upgrading everything about his game. This is another aspect where the Memphis native shows maturity about his place in the larger plans.
“Yeah, every day I’m trying to find the little things. I watch what Bear’s doing because I play behind him. So every day I ask the small stuff, like what’d we have on this? Should I convert it?
“I want to critique myself to make sure once my time has come I want to make sure I’m prepared. I don’t want to miss a beat. I want to look like a one, like I actually belong out there and know what I’m doing.”
Well, Gray’s numbers sure look like a first-team talent. But he doesn’t expect to supplant juniors Wilson or Fred Brown at either of the outside spots. Not this year. Gray is serious about rounding out his own game first, and getting it done every practice snap first. He’s obviously making strides there because Gray says now even Wilson will listen to tips and reminders from his backup.
“All in all, I love following his footsteps.”
Something else Gray loves, apparently, is working with another #2. As in Nick Fitzgerald. Both of Gray’s scores have come on Fitzgerald throws, and both were eye-openers for both the delivery and the grab. It has to be asked, are these underclassmen developing some sort of special connection?
“Nick, that’s my guy. That’s my dude! We always talk about taking advantage of the chances we get. It’s not every time you get opportunities like that so we want to make the best impression for next year or whatever.”
Yeah. Next year. Dak Prescott will graduate—and by the way, it was Gray on the grabbing end of the throw that made Prescott the all-time passing yards champ at Mississippi State. Wilson will likely have moved early to pro football. 2015 is only half-complete and already visions of 2016 touchdowns tossed by and to this year’s #2s are seen.
But don’t ask Gray to fast-forward to next season, any more than to force his progress to top-team status in this one. “Just waiting,” he said.