ASU impresses – from a 4.31 on the field, to a 4.0 in the classroom and everything in between
MONTGOMERY, Ala. | It was a cool fall night in Auburn and Jordan-Hare Stadium was loud following a score by the home team, however, things were about to change.
As the nationally ranked Tigers kicked off, Ezra Gray fielded the ball with his foot near the goal line and found a hole up the left side. He hit the hole and outran everyone to the end zone 99 yards later, and although the score didn’t count due to a penalty it was a moment that Gray still remembers.
“That whole week I was envisioning that play,” Gray said. “God just told me that I am going to run that kick back. If they kick it to me and give me an opportunity, I am going to run it back. When the opportunity came and with all the hard work I put in in the offseason, I couldn’t let anyone stop me from scoring.
“There was a big difference in the crowd after they scored. I could hear them in my helmet as I was running, but then when I broke into the open field, the volume went down. All I could hear was the one section of Alabama State fans cheering. It was cool when I crossed the goal line to look up in the stands and see all of the stunned faces.”
But it wasn’t always that easy for Gray coming out of Mosley High School in Lynn Haven (Fla.) when he arrived on the Alabama State campus. Like most high school stars coming in for their freshman year, Gray had to adjust to the speed of the game.
“The speed of the game was something that hard to get adjusted to coming out of high school,” he said. “It was definitely a lot faster. But the coaches taught me to analyze things and know what I am doing pre-snap, and it makes everything smooth.”
Gray has adjusted well for the Hornets, racking up 718 career rushing yards while splitting time in the backfield and has hauled in 27 receptions during his career. He has also recorded five touchdowns during his career, including the game-winner against Tuskegee on the Hornets’ first play in overtime last season.
Not to mention he returns kicks for Alabama State, earning Second Team All-SWAC honors last season and was named First Team Preseason this year.
But what does he like better?
“I can’t lie, getting the handoff from the quarterback is pretty sweet,” he said. “When I get that handoff and know I can just read my blocks behind those big linemen is definitely special. But returning kicks, that is cool too anytime I see that seam back there. But nothing beats running behind those big offensive linemen.”
And this year, he and the stable of running backs are ready for Hornets as they prepare for the season in camp.
“We definitely have some talent in the backfield this year,” Gray said. “You can take it from the starter all the way down to six deep and get good results. It has come from all the hard work we have put in this offseason, and to have a good stable of backs is just a great representation of coach (Gary Harrell) working with us on the little things. From the footwork to helping us progress on the field.”
The running back is one of the fastest guys on the team, clocking a 4.31 when he arrived on campus. But that is the only thing that is a four-point for Gray, as he sports a 4.0 in the classroom. Majoring in Computer Information Systems, he was honored at the 77th annual Magic City Classic for his academic work and finds time to manage all aspects of being a student-athlete.
“It is a blessing,” Gray said. “I always start and end my day praying to God, asking him to give me that sense of peace and time management. Any obstacle that comes in the way, he just allows me to overcome it. Whether it be intellectually or going ahead and getting things done, making the best decision.”
Camp continues throughout the next week; however, practices will be closed at ASU Stadium. The Hornets open the 2019 campaign on the road against UAB on Thursday, August 29 in Birmingham’s historic Legion Field. Kick is set for 7 pm and the game will be carried by ESPN+, and can be heard on the Hornet Sports Network.i