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Thursday, July 11, 2013
Texas commit Gray glad to be discovered

By Max Olson

MARBLE FALLS, Texas -- One of the smartest things Todd Dodge ever did in his first year at Marble Falls High School was attend a basketball game.

Not long after the famed former Southlake Carroll and North Texas head coach was hired on in January 2012, he was in the gym watching some Mustang hoops. That's when Dodge spotted the 6-foot-4 kid playing in the post.

In this town of less than 7,000 people, Dodge wasn't exactly expecting such a serendipitous discovery of talent. But he liked what he saw, and he moved quickly.

Garrett Gray
Three-star receiver Garrett Gray impressed the Texas coaches at the Longhorns' summer camp.
Dodge called up the boy's parents to arrange a meeting. Being the former college head coach that he is, Dodge knew making an in-home visit would seal the deal.

He had no idea why Garrett Gray didn't play football in 2011. Didn't matter. He needed him on his team.

But he kept his pitch simple: Come out to practice. See if you like it. Just give it a shot.

"I told him, 'Listen, I don't care why you didn't play as a sophomore. All I'm saying is come next Monday, when we start offseason back up. I'm inviting you to be there,' " Dodge said.

Today, Gray is the prolific wide receiver who committed to Texas in June over offers from a dozen other programs. Back then, he was a high school basketball player, one growing tired of his favorite game yet hoping it would be his ticket to college.

And you can imagine his surprise to learn the man who'd just been quarterbacks coach at the University of Pittsburgh had come to his small Hill Country town to win big again at the high school level.

"I had no clue," Gray said. "I didn't think he'd ever come here, to be honest."

It's safe to the recruitment of Gray was easier than any Dodge dealt with in his four years coaching UNT. He immediately and excitedly said yes, and he showed up on Monday. And then he did something special.

The coaching staff was doing testing on the field that day. Pro agility tests, vertical jumps, all the standard stuff. So Gray got in line and ran his 40-yard dash.

"I'm out here and I've got the watch," Dodge said. "He runs a 40 and I get 4.46. I said, 'I missed it. Give him a 4.54.' I said there's no way, I must've missed it. So he got back in line.

"A few minutes later, he runs again. Boom. 4.47. I'm like, 'Jiminy Christmas ...' "

Why in the world was this kid not playing football? It's a question Dodge and his baffled assistants must have arrived at last spring. Gray simply says he wasn't interested. He played football in middle school. He played as a freshman. He went with basketball and track for sophomore year.

Gray had been playing AAU and traveling basketball since he was in third grade. The early looks from Texas A&M, Rice and Tulsa were encouraging, but Gray was already starting to feel burnt out by the sport before Dodge ever set foot in his living room.

"You know, basketball was my first love," Gray said. "It wasn't in the cards, I guess. Coach Dodge came one night and talked to me and changed my mind. It's been football ever since."

And ever since the 2012 season opener, when he earned a start and caught three touchdowns in the first half, Gray knew he'd made the right decision.

He'd go on to have much bigger games than that. On the night Marble Falls quarterback Mike Richardson earned national attention by throwing for a record-setting 724 yards and seven touchdowns, Gray caught 13 passes for 293 yards and five scores.

He'd finish his first season on varsity with some hard-to-believe numbers: 81 catches, 1,205 receiving yards and 20 touchdowns in 10 games. Dodge won four state championships at Southlake Carroll but never had a receiver catch more than 23 touchdowns in a season -- and those teams played 16 games.

The college recruiters didn't begin to take notice until after Gray's junior season ended. He visited Texas twice, for a spring practice and the spring game, but the Longhorns weren't ready to offer until Gray proved at camp that the story of his first 40 time wasn't fiction.

The stopwatch doesn't lie. Gray ran a time of 4.40. He received his offer and made his commitment one day later.

"That was a relief," Gray said. "I'm glad I don't worry about it anymore and I can go back to concentrating on my senior season and having fun. Everyone in town was so pumped."

That Dodge played quarterback at Texas, and his son Riley is a grad assistant at UT, didn't sway Gray much in choosing the Longhorns over offers from major programs like Oklahoma State, UCLA and Cal. But he is happy to know he has made his coach proud.

"Having coach Dodge here definitely helped me out," Gray said. "He’s respected and he’s been in the same boat with recruiting before. He really helped me. He sat me down and had me set the order of schools I want to go to and the ones I had no interest in. He made sure the schools I liked came to check me out."

Dodge knew Gray's time in basketball meant he could box out defenders and leap for the ball. His biggest plays early in the 2012 season came on streaks and posts. Gray rounded out the rest of his game this spring.

He coached the best high school teams in Dallas from 2002 through 2006, but Dodge hasn't seen many athletes like Gray. He scoffs at the talk that at 6-4 and 205 pounds, Gray might end up at tight end in the future.

Check that stopwatch one more time.

"I always feel like I'm saying, 'He can run well for a big guy,' " Dodge said. "Shoot, he can run well for most any guy. All I can say is, that sucker turns loose and competes on Friday nights."

For that epiphany, Dodge has a night of high school basketball to thank.