New Rutgers commit K.J. Gray became a top-level defensive back this year against the toughest competition New Jersey has to offer.
And the Jersey City (N.J.) St. Peter’s Prep standout did it with almost no experience on the defensive side of the ball. Gray focused as an underclassman at wide receiver until he showed interest in defensive back during summer camps – including Rutgers. For someone new to defensive back, the ceiling is high.
“On the defensive side, he started for us at corner this year for the first time,” said St. Peter’s Prep head coach Rich Hansen. “The great advantage there is he’s a long, athletic corner. He’s 6-foot-2 or 6-foot-3, 190 pounds. Those types of players are valuable for matchups. He’s athletic enough to be able to be successful at a lot of spots.
“The learning curve for being a corner, that’s a lot. Obviously from an athletic standpoint he can do it. From a height standpoint, he has an advantage. He knows defensive concepts. The whole thing will be mental toughness. You have to be mentally superior to be a corner at that level. That will be something that he focused on moving forward.”
Gray committed to Rutgers as a defensive back after a strong career on offense with the Marauders.
“He’s athletic,” Hansen said. “He can play multiple positions and I think that’s always valuable. For us, he was able to make big plays. He was able to go get balls. He really created matchup advantages for us on the offensive side.”
Rutgers found off-the-field success with previous St. Peter’s Prep stars. Running back Savon Huggins and tackle Keith Lumpkin both gave Rutgers leadership and focus in the locker room.
Gray fits a similar mindset.
“I think K.J. will be a mature guy in the program,” Hansen said. “Hopefully he measures up to what coach [Chris] Ash is demanding from his players. He’ll be a good worker in the program. He’ll find his way and do a good job for him.”
Hansen is as new to Ash as a head coach as most of the local powerhouses. He is off to a good start but a New Jersey adjustment comes with the territory.
“I've met Coach and we spent some time together and had some conversations," Hansen said. "I really respect his vision for the program. I think he's got a solid plan. I think he's going to build it on some solid concepts and philosophies that are proven. He has a great pedigree.
“The one thing that has struck me is the most important component -- he's been honest with me from day one about his assessments of my guys and his vision for my guys. I think that will serve himself well as he navigates New Jersey. New Jersey is a different state and coaches here are different than most any other place. For me, I've had good experience with him and I'm confident that Rutgers is going to be in a good direction and hopefully we'll have some players involved."