Gray accepts new position

MarQueis Gray entered the year as the Gophers’ star QB but was injured in Week 3.

Michigan center back J.T. Floyd tackles Minnesota wide receiver MarQueis Gray on Nov. 3, 2012 at TCF Bank Stadium.

Mark Vancleave, Daily File Photo

Michigan center back J.T. Floyd tackles Minnesota wide receiver MarQueis Gray on Nov. 3, 2012 at TCF Bank Stadium.

Dane Mizutani

This year has been déjà vu for Gophers quarterback-turned-receiver MarQueis Gray — eerily similar to his senior year at Ben Davis High School.

It was five years ago in the second game of his senior year, and his team needed six inches on fourth down.

Gray was certain he could get the yards.

“I was considered big back in high school,” he said.

He received the snap, plowed into the line and fell short of the marker.

That was the least of his concerns.

Gray broke his arm on the play, sidelining him until the final game of the regular season. He wore an air cast on his arm but didn’t play quarterback.

“I came back, and our backup quarterback was playing pretty well … so we felt like I could go out and play receiver,” Gray said.

He never complained.

“That is him. That’s not a fake persona,” said Gray’s high school head coach Mike Kirschner. “Some kids say it and then go cry to mommy … and that wasn’t the case with MarQueis.”

Gray played that game as a receiver but eventually switched back to quarterback for the playoff run. He said his time at receiver was valuable.

“That was like the initial place I started to play receiver,” Gray said. “That’s what got my feet wet in the receiver role.”

Not what he expected

Gray’s senior year has been everything and nothing like he envisioned it.

He wanted a bowl berth, which the Gophers earned, but he also wanted to be the quarterback responsible for it.

Gray dabbled at quarterback in his first three seasons with the Gophers and then assumed the role full time as a junior. This season, he was poised to make the leap to a reliable option at the helm.

He led his team to a 2-0 record to start the season against inferior opponents.

Then Western Michigan came to town. Gray suffered a high-ankle sprain in the Sept. 15 win and sat out nearly three weeks. He returned in the Gophers’ Oct. 13 loss to Northwestern but reinjured his ankle.

The Gophers burned the redshirt on freshman quarterback Philip Nelson the next week, essentially ending the MarQueis Gray era at Minnesota.

Gray returned a week later at receiver, and like in high school, he never complained.

Nelson said he felt “a little weird” starting at quarterback over a fifth-year senior, but he said he knew “MarQueis would do anything for this team to win.”

Minnesota head coach Jerry Kill said he wanted to use Gray’s playmaking ability on the field, but he didn’t want to risk reinjuring Gray’s ankle.

Kill said he’s been especially impressed with Gray’s demeanor through the process of giving up his spot.

“It’s done now,” Gray said. “They asked me, and I had no problem doing it.”

Gray displayed that selfless attitude against Purdue, when he returned from his second ankle injury this season. Kill said Gray walked up to him after the game, put his arm around Kill and asked if he was OK.

“He should be worried about him,” Kill said, “but that’s the kind of kid he is.”

Gray was quiet in Minnesota’s bowl-clinching 17-3 win over Illinois. He had one catch for five yards but said he was ecstatic after the game.

“It means the world to us as seniors because we know what it feels like to have to sit at home and watch other teams,” he said. “It made us have a chip on our shoulder going into this season.”

Getting it over with

Gray received interest from Southern California and Ohio State and a scholarship offer from Oregon out of high school.

Kirschner recalled a USC assistant coach visiting Gray on the same trip he visited Terrelle Pryor, the No. 1 recruit in the nation.

“That tells you what kind of recruit he was as a senior,” Kirschner said, “but not everyone saw MarQueis as a quarterback.”

Gray, a four-star recruit according to Rivals.com, said he didn’t like the limelight that came with being a highly touted recruit.

“That recruitment process for me was overwhelming — coming home to crates and letters from different schools,” Gray said. “I just wanted to get it over with.”

Gray chose to visit Minnesota and said he fell in love with the campus, the coaches and the location in a metropolitan area. Gray committed on his visit, but he asked former head coach Tim Brewster to wait to announce it.

“I wanted to wait for the All-American game so I could announce it on TV,” Gray said

Kirschner said he thinks Minnesota’s view of Gray as a quarterback made the difference in the recruitment process.

“Minnesota made no bones about it … that they saw him as a quarterback,” Kirschner said, “and I do think that appealed to him.”

NFL future?

Gray had dreams of playing quarterback in the NFL, but that seems out of reach now.

He still has a chance to play in the league, though, with his large frame and ability to catch the ball.

Gray said a few agents have already contacted him via email but said he would deal with them when the season ends.

Kill said the switch to receiver puts Gray in a position to display his skills for a potential career at the next level. Kill said scouts see Gray as a wide receiver or tight end in the NFL.

“Hopefully at receiver,” Gray said with a smile.

He showed off his potential at receiver in the Purdue game with an acrobatic catch that set up a Gophers touchdown.

Gray has 12 receptions for 121 yards as a receiver, but he has yet to find the end zone.

Minnesota receivers coach Pat Poore said Gray will be a matchup nightmare at the next level with his combination of size and speed.

“I still think he’s going to get drafted,” Kirschner said. “I think he’ll get invited to the combine, and he’ll wow people with his ability to catch the ball and run.

“They don’t make them 6 foot 5, 230 pounds and fast [with] a great attitude.”

All worth it

Gray was thrust into an even bigger leadership role when he became a father of twins Nov. 11, 2011. He and his fiancée Alley Behr are set to be married Dec. 12, 2012.

Gray and Behr took their twins to Chuck E. Cheese to celebrate their first birthday, which was less than a week ago.

“They just sat there in their little high chairs … but they had a good time,” Gray said.

He said his kids have helped him through some hardships of his senior season. He said moments like seeing their first steps and seeing teeth grow in helped him recover from his ankle injury.

“That’s the highlight of my day when I come home,” Gray said. “They see me come to the door, and they hug me and crawl, and that just makes it worthwhile.”

The Gophers will practice throughout December in preparation for their bowl game. Gray said he doesn’t know if the added practices will impact his wedding date.

Gray said he is focused on the rest of the season and wants to cap his senior season with a bowl victory. But he sometimes wishes things would have played out differently.

“I wish I could go back to that Western Michigan game where I got injured,” he said, “and just erase that moment and see where it would have played out.”