SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Wait until February to ask Tim Hinton how satisfying it is to see Jonas Gray have the kind of farewell season he is having. Right now, there are at least four games left in which the running backs coach would like to see the senior continue to improve.
"You don't have time right now, it's all critical," Hinton said of reflecting. "You feel bad about it sometimes. ... Until the NCAA tells us we can't play another second, then we're gonna improve. That's our job."
Gray has made plenty of strides up to this point, however, scoring eight touchdowns over his past five games and rushing for 502 yards this season. He made his first start of the season (second of his career) Saturday against Navy, and he is averaging 7.97 yards per carry, just shy of George Gipp's single-season Notre Dame record of 8.1.
"I know a little bit about him, not a whole lot," Gray said of Gipp, laughing. "I know quite a bit. Like, I know that he passed away -- I don't know what it was from exactly. ... And after he passed away one of the legendary coaches we had had a speech: 'Win one for the Gipper.'
"I guess I need to really check up on it."
Gray can be forgiven for mis-remembering one of the many tales of Notre Dame lore. He recognizes, however, just what it would mean to leave with a school record.
"It is crazy," he said. "Especially thinking about where I came from, where I started, and talk about breaking a record of a guy like that is just -- just breaking any type of record at Notre Dame from where I started from is pretty incredible."
In his three previous seasons, Gray had just 75 carries for 309 yards. He had fumbled four times, adding to that total when his third-and-goal carry from the 1 in the Irish's opener was stripped and returned 96 yards for a momentum-turning South Florida touchdown.
Head coach Brian Kelly challenged Gray afterward to make sure that he would be remembered for overcoming a tough start to his senior year, not be defined by it. Gray said Kelly has been in his ear since, from telling the senior before the following game at Michigan that he was pulling for him to demanding him to set the tempo as a starter before Saturday's game against Navy.
Before that contest, it hit Gray that he would have just one more game left at Notre Dame Stadium.
"It's been so much of a journey," he said. "It's had its ups and downs, its negatives and its positives, but I wouldn't change a thing. I love this university; I love everything that it stands for. I'm gonna be upset when it's all over."
But as his position coach will remind him, there's plenty of time left for things to improve or go south in an instant.
For Hinton, seeing Gray complete that journey serves as a form of validation.
"Keep coaching them; that's what our jobs are," the running backs coach said. "It's easy to coach the one who does it naturally. Everybody can do that one, right? Why do [they] need us? It's getting the other guys to get to the level they need to be. That's what coaching's all about. That's what you try to do."