Congratulations to 2014 Clarksdale High School graduate Juantavius “J.T.” Gray for getting picked up by the New Orleans Saints after this past weekend’s National Football League Draft.
Gray spent the past four seasons playing for Mississippi State and saw action immediately as a freshman. He was a linebacker his first three years and defensive back his senior year, where he will play in the NFL. He also saw significant action on special teams.
If anyone is deserving of an opportunity to play in the NFL, it is Gray. It was easy to see what a natural-born athlete he was playing for the Wildcats.
Gray played an integral role in getting Clarksdale to the playoffs for the first time in several years as a sophomore in 2011. When he moved to Arizona as a junior, it showed as the Wildcats went 4-7 and missed the playoffs in 2012.
Then, when he came back as a senior, he carried the 2013 Wildcats on his back, both in the secondary and as a tailback as they won a home playoff game.
Clarksdale had a young quarterback that season who had not yet reached his potential, so it was up to the running game to carry the offense. Gray was the featured back and practically untouchable at times. He would run right through tackles. It was like watching a video game.
Gray also carried the defense. In the final regular-season game of 2013, the Wildcats needed a win at Center Hill to be at home in the first round of the playoffs. Gray showed what he was about, running back a key interception more than 100 yards for a touchdown on that cold Friday night.
Gray’s success continued at Mississippi State. He is listed at 6 feet, 202 pounds, but he still was at the linebacker position for three years. During his sophomore season in 2015, he had a career high 10 tackles against Louisiana Tech. He ranked third on the team as a junior in tackles at 71 and tackles for loss at eight.
When he moved back to his natural position at defensive back as a senior, he was third on the team at 65 tackles and had the most pass breakups on the team at eight.
Gray collected 210 tackles, 14 ½ tackles for loss, four sacks, eight pass breakups and one interception during his four seasons with the Bulldogs.
Most likely, the only reason Gray was not drafted was he did not participate in the NFL Combine. He did not participate because he was focused on finishing his school work and getting his degree before playing football. He had his priorities in order.
Nevertheless, it does not matter how a player gets his foot in the door. Gray’s foot is in the door and he has an opportunity to be successful. He showed his versatility in college playing linebacker and defensive back and his ability to compete with the best with a strong pro day at Mississippi State.
Gray is someone everyone in Clarksdale and Coahoma County should be proud of and rooting for him to succeed in the NFL.