Season-ending injuries can either crush a player's dreams or inspire that player to rise above. For Co-Lin wide receiver Donald Gray he's taking the latter. The four-star JUCO wide receiver spent the last season sitting on the bench and watching his teammates continue their dreams of being college football players.
Gray promised himself that by the start of the season the following year, he'd be on the field competing and moving closer to his goal of being the best wide receiver in the country. He's getting there.
"Rehab was good, I've been done with it for a month," Gray said of healing the ankle. "Every now and then I do something to keep strengthening it just to make sure everything is ready to go but I feel good."
He feels good now, but last year just happened to be the hardest year of his entire life. Being a competitor, Gray wanted to prove to the nation that he was the best. Coping with the fact that he had to make it through that obstacle, he made it out a better player and person.
"It happened to be the toughest thing I've ever had to do," Gray said. "I haven't set out for a year of football in my entire life. I've never had an injury that kept knocking me out. I wanted to be on the field and show everybody what I was made of. I wanted to help my team compete for national honors. It was tough."
After struggling to get college eligible, Gray knew late in the process he was going to have to go the Junior College route. That was the first obstacle he had to knock off the list. Just like everything else in life, though, Gray attacked it full steam ahead before encountering his injury. That's when he had to load up and fight yet again.
"I think I needed it because it made me appreciate this game more and gave me an insight on what I needed to prepare for in the future. On the bright side I get an extra year at MSU. That injury pushed me and motivated me to be a better player and I think that's what I am today."
Gray does indeed get three years on campus at MSU because of his injury which is good news for Bulldog fans. Many teams wanted the talented athlete out of high school. Rated a three-star in the loaded Memphis prep ranks, Gray was a blistering playmaker with limitless potential. Teams wanted him on campus immediately but the Bulldogs knew if they could get him after two seasoned years in Junior College, they'd have something special.
After just a couple of months after signing day, Gray wasted no time re-committing to MSU. He remembered something that his father always told him and that was all he needed to know to reassure himself that Starkville was where he needed to be.
"The loyalty, family, is what puts MSU over the top," Gray said. "That was the one school that stuck with me when I had no one else. How they run the program, with love and family, is just great to me. In my eyes, you can't compete if you don't have family."
"I love the coaching staff and the players and how they play the game. So it was a no brainer to go there. They stuck with me and I couldn't get enough of them. My dad told me to be loyal to those that are loyal to you and that's Mississippi State."
With offers from Arkansas, Ole Miss, Kentucky, Tennessee, Notre Dame and countless others, it was obvious that Gray had the potential to be a great one. Rivals noticed this immediately during his transition to the JUCO ranks and he came in as a four-star in his initial ranking this year.
"I believe what puts me up there is my competitive drive," Gray said. "Football is what I wanted to do. I train everyday and bring speed, hands and quickness, but there's always room for improvement. I bring a lot to the game, and to sit out that long I got what I need from watching everyone else. Being out and watching as a spectator helped me really pick it up."
Two of his teammates that he watched play for Co-Lin last year actually moved on to Starkville for the 2014 season. Offensive lineman Joquell Johnson and tight end Darrion Hutcherson became Bulldogs and are already on campus. Talking to those two makes Gray even more ready to be a Bulldog.
"We all just talk about the same thing; trying to get MSU on a roll and competing for an SEC championship," Gray said of his conversations with current Bulldogs. "Our ultimate goal is to show that MSU is a top team. We want to help them compete for one and we feel like we can bring something to the table. We talk about the class that's coming in and what we're going to be able to do. It's going to be a fun ride."
While he's excited to be joining former teammates, what excites him more than anything is the crop of slot receivers that will be joining him. The Bulldogs will lose one of its most productive receivers in Jameon Lewis but replace him with Gray, Deddrick Thomas and Rivals 250 athlete Malik Dear. Gray said the thought of that should scare opposing defenses.
"The rotation is just crazy because we're all on the same level," Gray said of the slot targest. "It's going to be scary because when they think one guy is the star and he goes out of the game, the next guy comes in and you don't lose a thing. That's going to be fun."
Always excited to get to Starkville, Gray hasn't had a chance to make it back to his future home this summer but added he will be there for several games in the 2014 season. While he gets set for his first, and final, season of action at Co-Lin, he also works overtime on a teammate getting to Starkville.
"I am trying to recruit (Three-star defensive end) Johnathan Calvin," Gray said. "That's been the main goal for me lately. He's his own man so I'm not pressuring him. I know he's going to make his own decision. I'm just trying to open his eyes to it. I tell him to make the best decision for you. It's within your heart."
Gray knows a lot about heart, he's got a big one. He's a player that Bulldog fans can get excited about in the future.