“I used to be here late every single day,” Gray said. “I would watch [Matthew] Slater be here late every day. I would come to my locker and see two chairs out and nobody else’s – Slater’s and Tom [Brady’s]. And I would be like this is what it’s all about.
“It’s about working hard,” he said. “It’s crazy, always be prepared, your shot is coming. It may not come when you expect it, but always be ready.”
The 230-pound Gray is now living out his dream -- he was promoted to the active roster after Stevan Ridley tore his ACL and MCL on Oct. 12 -- and loving every minute of it. He shared his “football journey” as part of our weekly feature.
When he first started playing football: “Eight years old. And only really started playing because it wasn’t basketball season yet. And my brother was playing, too.”
First position: “I remember thinking the whole time, my brother is going to be playing running back and that’s what I want to play and then when I got to the team I remember he was wearing number 57 and I asked for number 57 and I ended up being a linebacker.
Favorite player growing up: “Barry Sanders, for sure. Growing up a Detroit guy.”
Role models growing up: “First, my mom. She was huge. She was always one of those people that has a positive outlook on everything. Part of the reason now why I’m so positive about a lot of things that go on. After that, Stan Edwards, Braylon Edwards’ dad, my track coach from seventh grade through high school. He was one of those guys who just demanded a lot of me. He demanded for me to be great at what I was doing.”
Favorite football memory at Detroit Country Day: “I would say the state semifinals. It was a cold game, and I mean cold. One of my best friends, Kenny Demens, who plays for the Cardinals now, I remember he had some ingrown toenails and his feet were killing him before the game. He looked at me and said, ‘I need you to pick me up this game.’ And I said ‘I got you.’ And we went out and it was a cold day and snowing, and no one wanted to tackle me. I rushed for like 300 yards, four touchdowns. Probably my best game in high school.”
Why he chose Notre Dame: “First, I was real comfortable with it. I thought it was one of those places where it was just enough of everything. Just enough school work, just enough social life. And an opportunity to play on national television every week. So it was awesome. My mom visited with me and I saw the way her face lit up and I was like this is just the place for me. I was done looking after that.”
Favorite Notre Dame memories: “Breast cancer game, I was an honorary captain. And I remember it was the first time I was in the coin toss, with Harrison Smith, [thinking] 'this is pretty crazy.' This is our first time together after all this time. That was a notable memory for me. That and also when I tore my ACL my senior year. I talked to my team after I tore it after the game and I’m sitting there looking around the room, looking at those guys' eyes, and I could tell those guys really cared about me."
Bouncing back from ACL injury: “It was tough, man. There were some times where I was like, 'I don’t know if I will ever feel like myself again, ever. If I will ever get back to where I want to be.' A lot of it is just that positive outlook that my mom taught me, having good people around me tell me you injured your knee but when you get back and you start working hard and feel it… That, and at the time me, Knowshon Moreno, Jamaal Charles [and] Adrian Peterson [had injuries] so it was just like 'These guys aren’t even fazed by it.'”
Time in Miami with Reggie Bush: “I just remember [Reggie] used to do nothing but extra work all the time. We were in camp, blazing heat of Miami, he’s out there doing sled work after practice and I’m thinking 'This guy is an animal.' I remember seeing a magazine of him saying he’s the fittest guy in the league and saying to myself, 'That’s how I want to be.'”
Time in Baltimore: “Vonta Leach, Ray Rice. It was just a cool experience. Vonta taught me a lot about how to be a tough guy, how to play a bully-ball mentality. Ray was the same way. … And every day going against the starting defense. The defensive line coach asked Haloti [Ngata], ‘Do you like Jonas?’ Because he hit me hard every single day.”
Feelings when promoted to Patriots’ active roster: “Anxious. Nervous. Looking at it like, 'Man, I can’t believe how it all works out. No matter how hard things get, keep pushing. Stay focused and always ready.'”
First career run goes for 19 yards: “It was one of those things where you make the run and think you belong. This is you. After all that, you belong here, no matter what happens.”
Summing up his football journey: “It’s one of those things where it may not always look like you are going to have the opportunity. Because I spent the whole last year on practice squads and I’ve seen guys get injured, I’ve seen people come up and down, things not go well in the run game. You just have to stay focused. Believe in yourself … No matter what, keep grinding.”