Well, now. That is saying something strong. Here is a Bulldog with a pair of receiving scores already to his credit. In fact one-fourth of his catches have ended with six Mississippi State points put on the board.
And yet Gray finds the same satisfaction in, say, stuffing a punt as in catching a pass? Yes indeed, he does. Because Donald Gray is about being the best-rounded Bulldog he can be.
“You’ve got to improve every area you get a chance to,” Gray said. “Whether it be special teams or offense, I’ll do it.”
Do it pretty well, too. Yet his head coach expects even better from this sophomore receiver/kicking teams member.
“His play making ability, we’re seeing that come through,” said Coach Dan Mullen. “I’m also seeing him make some great plays on special teams for us.”
But wait…Mullen was already talking about great Gray plays last week. As in, before Gray got his clean shot at and stuff of a Louisiana Tech punt. When State’s staff reviewed video of other games, other specialist situations, #6 was standing out to them for meeting assignments, giving effort, everything coaches look for first.
Actually getting hands on a kicked football? OK, that’s something everyone else can see live and real-time. A certain Louisiana Tech punter will struggle to forget what he saw last Saturday.
Speaking of video review… Gray and kick recoverer safety Brandon Bryant said they were told by coaches that Tech’s punting approach offered opportunity for a block.
Late in the second quarter, everything followed the practiced script. “We saw the same exact thing we worked on all week,” Gray said.
“And I told somebody in advance I was going to get the block. We called what we were supposed to call, the tackle didn’t push me out and the shield didn’t step out. So it was a free run.” Gray made the clean block, Bryant fell on the ball at the two-yard line; and one offensive snap later Dak Prescott took it into the end zone.
The side-story there was making this play erased Gray’s surprising drop of a Prescott pass on the very previous State series. That drive had to settle for a field goal. Blocking the punt more than offset everything, though Gray said his coaches never held anything against him.
“Coach G (Billy Gonzales) told me right before I went out to forget about the drop. Because we knew it was going to come more opportunities.”
Gray spent spring and preseason working for special teams opportunities. In punt drills he came close to blocking real kicks. During single-man practices, where Mullen runs every athlete through turns attacking to find who does it well, Gray just showed a knack for getting to the kicker. Yes, Gray really wanted a spot on this team for real.
“I knew I would, but I didn’t think I’d be starting,” he said.
Now, about his regular offensive job. When Gray hauled in his second touchdown of the season, a week earlier against Troy, questions automatically arose about why the juco star isn’t starting. Gray explained it well himself last week, as published here. Mullen had more to say on the subject.
Yes, Gray has made a few great vertical-passing game plays, per the coach. “I think he’s becoming a better route-runner and every-down player. He still makes some glaring errors that you (fans, media) may not see, you have to know what you’re looking for. He had a couple of missed assignment plays that can hurt you.”
But this is not at all an indictment of the still-developing Dog. Just the opposite. Mullen wouldn’t point out flaws if he did not know there was potential to be tapped and willingness to improve. Gray has shown both. And with a growing list of gimpy State receivers, Gray’s growth should accelerate.
“Like Coach G always says, preparation before performance,” Gray agreed. There’s also nothing like making a big special teams play to make a point about greater passing game opportunity, too.
“I seized my moment, I saw it and I took it.”