By JOEL COLEMAN
Oh, what Donald Gray would give for the chance to sleep in.
Mississippi State’s sophomore wide receiver, entering his first season with the Bulldogs after a standout 2014 campaign at Copiah Lincoln Community College, is fighting through his first fall camp at MSU.
There’s an offense to learn, coaches and teammates to impress, and a whole new routine that Gray says has left him drained.
“The hardest thing is meetings,” Gray said. “We had meetings at junior college, but there’s so many things now with meetings in the morning, then right after practice we’ve got meetings again. Not being able to take naps in between…you try to scrape up any type of nap you can. You might get a two-minute break. So you go to sleep for those two minutes and wake back up. It’s just exhausting more than anything. The mind is tired, and the body is talking to the mind and the mind is talking to the body. You just have to figure it out.”
Gray is beginning to adapt to his new normal in Starkville. There are good days and bad he says. One day he might be on top of the world. The next, a dropped pass in practice might tempt him to get a little too down on himself. With all that’s going on, Gray said one of the biggest things he’s trying to learn right now is how to simply let blunders go as he battles for a spot on MSU’s depth chart.
“Every morning, it’s just part of the game, but you’ve got to wake up with a fresh start,” Gray said. “If you don’t have your mind right, your mind can be a terrible thing that can overpower your body so you have to wake up and get it going. You can’t let one mistake ruin your whole day.”
In between the low times, Gray has already started to show flashes of the player he was at Co-Lin last year when he was named a National Junior College Athletic Association All-American. The 5’10”, 193-pound Memphis, Tennessee, native reeled in 55 catches for 989 yards and 10 touchdowns a season ago while also returning three punts for scores.
Mississippi State wide receivers coach Billy Gonzales says Gray is an unfinished product, but it’s obvious he has the tools to be a playmaker in the Southeastern Conference.
“He’s got all the intangibles and he’s extremely talented,” Gonzales said. “He can jump. He can run. He’s got quick-twitch. He’s just got to continue to focus. He’s been very quick at picking up the offense, he’s just got to be consistent. He’ll make a big play, then he’ll drop an easy ball.”
Gray noted that he dropped a pair of passes in Mississippi State’s first scrimmage of the fall. He was tempted to slip into another mental funk because of his mistakes. Gray credited his teammates for not letting that happen.
“(Justin Malone) immediately came over there,” Gray said.”Dak (Prescott) said a couple things and (Dontavian Lee) did. And Malone kind of just said ‘Let it go. You’re going to have another chance to do what you’ve got to do’ and I did.”
Gray went on to add a long touchdown reception that night as he showed again why he could be a big part of MSU’s wide receiver mix.
As of now, Gray says he, along with senior Joe Morrow and junior Fred Brown, continue to work for the Z receiver position. While many might look at the situation as a battle for a spot, Gray says that’s not the case.
“I don’t really see it as competition,” Gray said. “I see it as that’s my big brothers. If my big brother falls off, hopefully I can help him and he can help me. I enjoy it and I’m just still learning from them.”
As Gray soaks in all the knowledge he can from Morrow and Brown, he might just be inching his way closer to overcoming his culture shock and becoming the dynamic player the Bulldogs feel he can be.
“He’s got to continue to work, got to continue to get better, and make improvements, and if he can do that then hopefully, he will have an opportunity to help us,” Gonzales said. “But he does show those signs that he can be a difference maker.”
Until then, Gray is fully aware there is plenty to do. There’s still a few more meetings too, so Gray would be wise to make sure his alarm remains set.
“I’ll sleep after the season,” Gray said.
By JOEL COLEMAN