Before Eric Gray had even played a high school snap, he held a scholarship offer from Mississippi State.
Three years later, the Memphis (Tenn.) Lausanne Collegiate running back is newly committed to Michigan, has won two Mr. Football awards, a state championship and accumulated a career stat line (3,151 yards and 45 touchdowns as a junior, 2000 yards and 43 touchdowns as a sophomore) that make the Bulldogs look smart for offering as early as they did.
The nephew of former Ohio State running back Maurice Hall, the Buckeyes were a school that had Gray’s attention early. But Michigan got him to camp as a sophomore, then back again for an official visit at the end of June, which helped the Wolverines ultimately pull this prolific back away from 22 other schools that had offered scholarships by that point.
“(Things changed with Michigan) when I went on that official,” he said to The Michigan Insider’s Sam Webb. “At first I was like, ‘Man I’m not going Michigan. They haven’t talked to me in a long time.’ But I decided to go on that official and it is the best thing I could have ever done.”
After receiving that initial offer from Mississippi State, Gray carried the ball 69 times for 322 yards and one touchdown his freshman year. That was followed by his sophomore explosion, which earned him his first Mr. Football. The crowning achievement of that season, though, was his 175-yard, two-touchdown performance in a state title game victory.
Gray was on the national scene now.
Today, 247Sports ranks him as the No. 95 overall player and No. 1 all-purpose back in the country.
He validated that ranking at The Opening Finals in Dallas, where he was a top performer.
“He’s the ideal all-purpose back,” 247Sports director of scouting Barton Simmons said, “with great pass-catching ability out of the backfield, really good burst and change-of-direction and big-play potential, and he was one of the top backs in attendance in Texas.”
Simmons believes Michigan will have one of the best running back classes in the country with Gray’s versatility and recent commit Zach Charbonnet’s size, power and balance complementing each other well.
It would not be a stretch to say this will be one of the best running back duo signings of the last 30 years at Michigan.
In 1993, the Wolverines signed Tim Biakabutuka, but fans may forget that Dayna Overton from Jeffersonville (Ind.) was also in that class and had rushed for 1,543 yards and 18 touchdowns as a senior. Overton transferred to San Diego State and was drafted in the Arena Football League.
Similarly, in the 1997 class, Anthony Thomas became a star, but California native Patrick McCall was just as highly regarded. The same the following year when the Wolverines signed touted Justin Fargas, but Walter Cross was also a top recruit.
The more recent examples of two top running back recruits would come in 2006 (Carlos Brown and Brandon Minor), 2008 (Sam McGuffie and Michael Shaw), 2009 (Fitz Toussaint and Vincent Smith) and 2013 (De’Veon Smith and Derrick Green).
Charbonnet and Gray will enter their senior years with more combined yardage than any of those duos, but it is their contrasting strengths that make this a potential great match for Michigan.
The Wolverine class now sits at 19 commitments.
Allen Trieu covers Midwest football recruiting for 247Sports. He has been featured on the Big Ten Network on its annual Signing Day Show. His Michigan and Michigan State recruiting columns appear weekly at detroitnews.com.