Coming into South Bend for his freshman season back in 2008, the future appeared to be very bright for Jonas Gray. A highly-touted running back coming out of Michigan, Gray was expected to contribute early on in his career for Charlie Weis and his staff.
For whatever reason though, Gray struggled in his first three seasons in South Bend. During his freshman season, the now senior running back had only 21 carries on 90 yards. In 2009, Gray had 119 yards on the ground on only 34 carries. He saw even less touches last season with only 20 carries for 100 rush yards.
Through his first three seasons in blue and gold, Gray had yet to see the end zone, but his lack of touches and not seeing the end zone has changed in 2011. In his last year of eligibility in 2011, the light bulb has suddenly turned on for the 21-year-old.
Of course, his senior season started with some controversy. In the very first game of the season against South Florida and on his second carry of the season, the running back fumbled inside the five-yard line on the Irish’s first possession of 2011. A USF player picked up Gray’s fumble and ran it 96 yards for a touchdown.
Immediately, Gray was put into Brian Kelly’s dog house with Gray receiving only two more carries the rest of the game. His journey to Kelly’s dog house was short lived though simply because Notre Dame was low on numbers at the running back position.
In his next game against Michigan, Gray only touched the ball seven times; six on the ground and once through the air, but he was extremely efficient with a total of 81 yards. That was only a sign of things to come for the Michigan native.
Gray had 65 rush yards on 12 carries against Michigan State. He got into the end zone for the first time in his career in the game against Pittsburgh, which also triggered his touchdown streak. Gray had the best game of his career against Purdue with 94 rush yards and a score.
He continued on with his great play over the last three games as well with an eye-popping six touchdowns, including three against Navy on Saturday. Gray also has 176 rush yards on only 23 carries, which has been the story of the year for him. Looking at his stats as a whole, Gray has 503 rush yards on only 63 touches, translating into eight yards per carry.
It doesn’t matter what school you are running the ball at, that is going to catch the eyes of NFL scouts and Gray has certainly done that with his play in 2011. He wasn’t on anyone’s draft board before the season started, but he is slowly moving up the ranks as the season wears on.
When you look at Gray, he certainly has the body type to be an NFL caliber player. Standing at 5-foot-10, Gray weighs in at about 230 pounds of pure muscle. Numerous of times during this season, he has bulled over opposing defensive players reminding some Irish fans of the Jerome Bettis days. The man is a load and very difficult to bring down when he gets out on the open field.
Some have questioned Gray’s speed, but he as looked as every bit as fast as Cierre Wood has this season. Combine that with his physicality and his freakish strength and you could have a guy that can play every Sunday for the next several seasons.
You have to tip your cap to Gray. His first three seasons in South Bend were a disaster. He had troubles getting on the field and when he did receive playing time, he had issues holding on to the football. Gray could have easily moved on elsewhere for a change of scenery, but he stuck with it.
Now, he has put his bad hand problems behind him and is becoming arguably Notre Dame’s top running back. If he can continue on with his great play, he could become a realistic option for a NFL team in the mid to late rounds of next year’s draft.