"Basically what I'm trying to do right now is get on the bus," Jonas Gray said echoing the theme of the rest of the freshmen during their one chance to meet with the media. "That's the biggest thing for me. I came here to compete."
Part of the reason why is because the freshman class knows its respective roles on the team. Arguably the best class in the nation, Gray thinks that all of his classmates have an essential quality as young players entering a program — patience.
"I think the good thing about this class is that we all know how to be patient," Gray said. "We all know how to wait until our time comes. We all know what's expected of us. We all go out there and try to go as hard as we can everyday."
"Oh yeah, definitely," he said of playing behind his teammates. "They all help me out. They all kind of do their own thing well. They all help me out and it's been real positive. Even the fullbacks help me out. We're really a close knit group at the running back position."
Since all of the halfbacks ahead of Gray are older than him, he knows that they can help guide him through the struggles of a freshman coming into university life.
"It helps a lot," he said. "They went through the same problems that I went through. James went through the same problems, Armando and Robert are still going through their problems, so it helps out a lot. They put me in position to not make the same mistakes they did."
Now that the Beverly Hills, Mich. native has set his goal of, "getting on the bus," his progress has been consistent as he is still soaking in the playbook and the system.
"It's going well," Gray said. "Everyday I try to do something new to impress the coaches. We try to have a better day, everyday. So that's the big thing for me, to just have a good day, everyday. And I think once I start to do that more and more, we can get on the bus."
Perhaps the most dominant feature that Gray possesses is his size. Throughout fall camp, much has been made of his thickness and added muscle over the off-season. Head coach Charlie Weis picked up on it the first time Gray came in to the football office.
"Well, first of all, Jonas is one locked-up unit," Weis said. "When you see him out there for a freshman, you don't get any more chiseled, well-defined athlete than this guy. And for a guy who is young, he shows very, very good leadership skills. The players seem to gravitate to him. We always talk about that special something, well, you know, the players like being around this guy. That usually bodes well for what's going to happen down the line."
Just because Gray is bulky doesn't mean he isn't quick. In his state semifinal, Gray rushed for 305 yards on 29 carries adding four trips to the end zone. His senior year totals are just as impressive, as he racked up 2,614 yards for 7.7 a yards per carry average adding 32 touchdowns along the way. To post these numbers, Gray had to balance the ability to bulk up and maintain his speed.
"I think in our offense, you have to have a changeup back," Gray said. "You've got to change the tempo a lot because having a combination of both and we seem to have it in our backfield, so it's a good thing."
This off-season, the Irish strength and conditioning staff sent out workouts that they wanted their freshmen to complete over the summer. For Gray, it was an enormous help, and he is reaping the benefits.
"It was good," he said. "I kind of felt like the workouts for the summer once we got here were a lot easier than the ones we did in the summer, because you're helped by the coaches, and they expect to do it the right way. A lot of the stuff I was during in the summer, I was doing right, but I wasn't doing it the exact way they wanted me to so it was good. Once I got here, I made a few mistakes but they definitely helped me out."
The biggest adjustment for the Detroit Country Day School product has been learning the new system and it's nuances.
"Early on, I'd say for the first week or so, it was tough running the system," Gray said. "But after you go through it all so much, you start to see patterns and the way things are made. So you could say, ‘on this certain play, the tight end stays at home, so I don't have this blitz protection,' so it kind of helps in that sense. It was hard early on, but it takes some getting used to. Once it starts to click, it makes you a better player."
This will be a challenge that Gray and his classmates will all have to endure in the next couple of weeks. Having a collegiate coaching staff has also pointed out some issues that Gray didn't need to worry about in high school.
"As far as just knowing the reads and protections and things like that," Gray said. "Also my steps coming out of the backfield, because I'm so used to just hitting the hole and not so much worrying about my steps, and keeping my shoulders square."
Regardless of all that Gray has endured during fall camp, there is one event that he is anxiously awaiting — the walk through the tunnel of Notre Dame Stadium come September 6th.
"I'm very anxious," a smiling Gray said. "Words cannot even describe how I feel about going through the tunnel and just getting a chance to run down that field and do something to help the team win."
Soon enough, he will get his chance to do just that.