By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
Austin Gray has to sit back and laugh sometimes when he thinks back at how he was a knucklehead at times during his high school football career at Egg Harbor Township. Going to college and getting thrown in with big, talented dudes can straighten a guy up real quick, though.
Gray, a 2014 EHT graduate, was a good player in high school, but relied more on talent than a grinding work ethic, he said. That’s changed now that he’s at St. Francis (N.Y.) University and playing defensive tackle in the Northeast Conference, going up against NCAA Division I-AA offensive linemen.
“It’s really different,” Gray said when asked to compare high school to college. “There’s more of a culture about everything, and it’s much harder to manage your time. I wasn’t really ready for it. I was very immature, so it took me longer to adapt to everything.”
Gray took a redshirt his freshman year in 2014, and this fall finished up his redshirt sophomore season. He helped lead the Red Flash to a 7-5 record, including a berth in the I-AA playoffs, where St. Francis lost 31-21 to Villanova in the opening round. Gray (6-2, 285) finished the season with 45 tackles, including 8.5 for loss, 3.5 sacks and two forced fumbles. More importantly, he’s been getting after it in the classroom as well. The criminal justice/sociology major is on track to begin a master’s degree program next fall as a redshirt junior. He’s committed himself to getting healthy after playing most of the 2016 season with a torn bicep, and after having surgery he spent a good portion of the winter break working out with former NFL player Dave Klemic at Athlete’s Arbor training center in Linwood.
“All the little things make you better, day by day. I’ve learned to manage my body and health, that’s the big thing is staying healthy,” Gray said. “Working out at Athlete’s Arbor has been great, they’ve taught me a lot about how to take care of my body. We do speed and conditioning every other day, then we’ll hit the weights, too, and do drill work. Ray Ellis (Holy Spirit) is with us, and Austin Johnson (St. Augustine) if he’s not too busy. It’s a nice group of college athletes over there working on a lot of things.”
Gray said Klemic — an all-state receiver during his days at Mainland who went on to become a hall-of-famer at Northeastern University and who played three seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs — has taught him a lot about maturity and the mental side of preparing to be a good athlete.
“He always preaches that it’s all in your mind, how much you want it. Everybody is capable of (success). I’ve learned how to carry myself. He’s a great mentor and he motivates us. It’s been incredible working with him and his staff. There have been some professional guys who work out with us, and Johnson was drafted. You get a lot of different points of view and what motivates different people, and that’s awesome,” Gray said. “I’ve learned how to use my strength and use my technique more. You get to college and you try to bull-rush somebody, and that doesn’t work.”
Gray said he is really enjoying the college life.
“The coolest thing has been meeting different people, seeing different cultures and different backgrounds. I learn something new every day, honestly,” he said. “School is amazing. I actually should be done next fall, and then I’ll start my master’s degree in the fall. They definitely get you on the right track. I wasn’t sure if I would be able to handle everything, but football has kept me on the right track and kept me focus.”
One regret about his high school playing days? Not taking what his coaches were telling him seriously enough.
“I’ve definitely matured. In college, everybody is as talented as you are and there’s always somebody looking to take your spot, so you have to stay on your toes. You just have to work hard at everything you do, and listen to the little things (that coaches tell you),” Gray said. “I was talking to (former EHT coach Tony) DeRosa a while ago and I was saying how the little things he was always telling me that I didn’t think were important, now my college coaches are saying the same thing. It’s like deja vu all over again. So you really have to listen to everything your coaches are saying (in high school).”
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @GDsullysays
By DAVE O’SULLIVAN