Donald Gray caught a pair of passes for 22 yards in last week's loss to South Alabama. The talented junior is expected to be a big part of the Mississippi State offensive efforts this fall. Gray hopes to make a big contribution to a Bulldog win this week. The Memphis, Tennessee native shared that there has been a real sense of urgency around the football complex this week.
"It's been non-stop relentless effort," Gray said. "We got to be desperate. That's been the main topic, not just with the receivers, but the whole team. We have to be desperate to be great, desperate to get to the ball, desperate to score. We have to be desperate to be great in everything we do from walking to class or tying up our shoe strings. We have to be desperate to win and that's the main thing."
Gray has taken his feelings of desperation and channeled them into a greater sense of purpose that involves leadership and additional work outs of his own. Following the Bulldog practice sessions, the talented wide out spent some time working with the Juggs gun to continue to strengthen his hands and his team.
"I grabbed some young guys and brought them out there with me," Gray said. "We all do different things. For me personally, the Juggs helps me. Some other guys might like to have the quarterback throw it to them, so they can get a more realistic feel from that. All in all, we're pushing.
"Our attitudes are different, not from the coaches, but from us. We took it upon ourselves and kind of talked. We all agreed that we were going to come out and make a statement, not only in the game, but it started in practice."
Younger players will turn to the veterans to see how to respond to things, both good and bad. Gray reports that his message to the Bulldog underclassmen has been one of encouragement.
"Keep our heads up, don't be defeated and still believe in the process," Gray shared. "There are going to be games like this. I don't believe we had a great week of practice (last week). Speaking for myself, I know I didn't have a great week of practice at all. You could cut on plays from practice and actually see it in game situations."
Throughout the week, Bulldog players have shared that perhaps their team took South Alabama lightly and did not put their best foot forward. Gray echoes that sentiment and reports that a valuable lesson has been learned, especially for Bulldog newcomers.
"Some of them were still in kind of a high school mindset," Gray said. "It's not bad that they're immature, but some of them were 18 years old and had never been in a big game like this before. They didn't know how to take it or how to fully give everything they had. Some of them were moping and kind of feeling sorry for themselves. It's part of the growing process. All we can do is be patient and tell them everything we can."
Ready to turn the page, Gray shared his thoughts on South Carolina and the challenges the Gamecocks bring to Davis Wade Stadium this weekend.
"Those boys are good," Gray said with a grin. "They have some nice corners. I like their corners. I like how aggressive they are. They're not scared to get in your face. They're not scared to let you know that they're there. We watched a lot of film on them. We're trying to break down every aspect that we can.
"They have different styles and they have different strengths. They have height, speed. They have it all. They rotate their whole secondary I believe. Each one of them is athletic and they can play different positions at any time. Some can go from safety to corner or from corner to safety at any moment. They all have great hips, speed and ball skills."
With the scouting report done and a the week of practice now over, Gray and his fellow Bulldogs will look to earn their first win of the season. While the sting of last weekend's upset loss still linger, Mississippi State players and coaches are looking to use that disappointment as motivation.
"It's redemption week," Gray said. "It's unbelievable. I hate to lose, but in order for us to understand what (Coach Dan) Mullen was trying to explain to us, we had to go through that. I hate that it had to be the first game of the season, but I feel like we needed it. I am not happy about the loss, but for a young team we probably needed it.
"When it comes to leadership, we are still kind of young. It's going to be different. It's going to be a different team come Saturday."
Gray's position coach, Billy Gonzales, has stressed the importance of taking the intensity from this week's practices to the playing field this weekend. It appears that the wide receivers have been encouraged to be the tip of the proverbial spear going forward.
"He wants relentless effort," Gray said. "He wants us attacking the ball and he wants aggressiveness. He wants us protecting the perimeter. He wants (desperation). It's not too much more he can say. It's just the intensity and the look in his eyes everyday when he comes into the film room. That sort of stands alone and speaks volumes. We feed off what he gives us."
Gonalzes is not the only Bulldog coach with a clear message to the Mississippi State team this week. Gray among others report that the head man, Mullen, began the week by shouldering the blame for last week's shocking loss. Gray is not ready to let his coach stand alone in blame.
"That hurts," Gray said of Mullen accepting responsibility. "That just goes to show you what kind of coach we have. That's a man that is willing to do and give everything he's got everyday. He kind of understands that we gave less effort.
"A lot of people will point fingers. Some coaches will point it out and let you know who did this, but for him to take the whole blame says a lot about who he is. That's the type of leader that you want, the type of coach willing to accept any failure even though it's not on him. He can't go out there and play for us, but for him to say that and accept it that speaks volumes about coach and I love who coach is."
The strong comments from Mullen about personal responsibility struck a chord with Gray. With what is considered a must win game for State's bowl prospects, Gray reports that he is ready to go and play hard for his coaches, fans and teammates.
"I don't want to only get this win for Bulldog Nation, but for (Mullen)," Gray said. "I want to let him know that what he is doing is actually working. We're buying into the process. We're not giving up. We're not a spoiled team who thinks we got everything given to us. We're not living off of the land of what people have done five years ago or three years ago, like Dak (Prescott) or Fletcher Cox and everybody that has left a legacy here. We're not living off of that. We're going to build our own."
Mississippi State and South Carolina will kick it off at 6 PM Saturday night in the SEC opener for the Bulldogs. Tickets remain available. The home standing Bulldogs are favored to win the contest.