MCHS Bulldog senior player Michael Gray’s influence on the Morgan football team
story by nick nunn
photos by jesse walker
To see Michael Gray on the field, you’d never think that anything could make him seem out of place, but he appears to be slightly out of his element sitting in the office of the field house at Morgan County High School.
Naturally reticent, Michael passes his hands over one another as he responds to questions and provocations, but he’ll smile and start to open up a little when he is talking about his favorite subject: football.
Michael is quickly proving to be one of the most important assets on the Bulldogs’ team this year. So far this season, Michael has rushed 557 yards in 58 attempts (that’s 9.6 yards per carry, well over the team average of 6.5), and his touchdowns account for almost one quarter of those scored this year.
But those are just numbers, they aren’t Michael.
Michael Mandel Gray, Jr. was born May 24, 1995 in Atlanta to Michael Gray, Sr. and Fercenia Peters.
Michael was the fourth of five children, and he was adopted, along with one of his sisters, by his great-aunt Valerie Wynn and moved to Morgan County when he was just six months old.
“I’ve been down here all of my life, basically. I was adopted, but I was adopted into the family. My great-aunt actually adopted me, and she died when I was 12, and my sister decided that she wanted to go back and live with my grandmother. I didn’t want to go back. I don’t think that Atlanta would be a good place for me.”
“I decided to stay down here with my great-aunt’s boyfriend, Clarence White. That’s my Dad, really because he’s been taking care of me my whole life.”
Michael adjusted well to the fact that he was adopted.
“I think I took it pretty well. They told me from the beginning, ever since I was little, that I was adopted. I know who my real mom is. She currently lives in Morgan County. She comes to my games, and I grew up around my biological dad, who actually comes to my games. He travels down from Newnan.”
Michael got started early with football, playing at the Recreation Department in sixth grade.
“That was the first time I actually played on a team. In middle school, I played, but I never got any playing time. So high school is when I fully did football.”
From his earliest playing days, he knew that he wanted to devote a lot of time to football, and it didn’t take long before coaches started to take notice of his talent.
“We knew Mike was going to be a real good football player during the spring training right before his sophomore year, said Head Coach Bill Malone.
“We knew that he had excellent hands and that he had above-average speed, and he loves the weight room.”
But, early last season, Michael suffered an invulsion fracture in his hip, which kept him from playing most of the season.
“I played the first three games, then, after that third game, I was like, ‘I can’t do it.’ I felt like I couldn’t run anymore, so they sat me out two weeks. I was coming back for our homecoming game against Putnam.”
The fracture occurred during practice before the Putnam game.
“I’ll never forget it, I was running a seven route and, as soon as I cut to the outside, I felt like my hip just busted, just slid off from my body. I remember I just laid on the ground crying. I tried to get up and run back to the huddle, but I couldn’t do it.”
Thankfully, there was no need for surgery. Michael had to use crutches for a few weeks, but he was unable to play for the rest of the season.
This year, however, Michael feels that he is stronger than he has ever been.
“I think I’ve just gotten better at using my stamina and being prepared. Over the whole summer, we did conditioning and stuff. I think I’m better conditioned than ever to stay on the field.”
In addition to his personal health, he also feels that the relationship between the members of the team is stronger this year than before.
“As a team, we’re pretty close. We went to FCA camp over this summer, and I think that’s when we actually just made a bond. Before that, we had our little groups, but I think, as a team, we are all closer together now than we were.”
In fact, Michael says that he feels close to the entire school body.
“I have a lot of friends around here. I support everybody. I’m a big school spirit person. I go to the softball games, the volleyball games – I go to just about everything I can get into.”
Being part of the last class that was part of the 1-9 season three years ago, Michael remembers the last time they were part of the AAA division. That season was on the mind of all of the players before the Oconee County game earlier this year.
“Through the whole week, we were thinking, we’ve got to come out and prove ourselves. All of us remember that 1-9 year, and we’re like, ‘we’re not coming out and letting that happen to us.’”
“When it was time for the game, I was ready. When we got up by so many points, I wanted to stay in the whole game… but they won’t let us.”
Coach Malone considers Michael’s desire to put all of himself in his playing what makes him an extraordinary player.
“When you start building a team, you start building it around people like Mike,” said Malone.
Coach Malone also had a story that illustrates Michael’s character.
“We threw a fade to him into the end zone near what is now going to be Freshman Academy, and the out of bounds line is right there on the edge of a briar patch. He went up, caught it, went down and disappeared, completely disappeared into the honeysuckles and the briars and came up bleeding but came up with the ball – smiling. That’s indicative of the kind of kid that Mike is. We’re so happy to have him on our team.”
Since this is Michael’s senior year, he is starting to look forward and make plans for after high school.
He likes language arts and social studies classes and is interested in studying either journalism or computer hardware engineering.
His goals for the rest of his life are still broad at this time, but they clearly indicate what he wants out of life.
“I just want to be successful. That’s my ultimate plan, whether it is playing football, or growing up, getting a degree, and doing what I can to help provide for myself. I just want to be successful.”
Printed in the November 8, 2012 edition