Phoenix — It took some prodding for Jonas Gray to share his true feelings about what the past two months have been like. The Patriots running back and Birmingham Country Day standout seemed to be the next big thing after a 201-yard performance in Week 11, but after missing a meeting a few days after the game, he effectively lost his role in the New England offense.
"Everybody has played a role in getting here," he said to the first question about how he handled it. "You can never point to one game or two games or a collection of games, to get to the Super Bowl, it's an entire season."
Asked again, Gray said how difficult it was, but also showed his humility by explaining he understands his current role on the team preparing to play the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday in Super Bowl XLIX.
"You know what? It was tough. It was very tough," he said. "You want to be a part of something like that, but I still think that I carved a role for myself, even if it was in practice and I didn't play in the games. I still got those guys on defense ready.
"The offensive players that were playing in front of me, I was on their tail. They knew I was coming behind them, so I think we're all competitive with each other, we all got better from it, and I learned to become a better professional from it, too."
The role Gray plays Sunday remains to be seen. Against the Colts in Week 11, Gray had 37 carries for 201 yards and four touchdowns. The next week against the Lions, he didn't play a single snap as the Patriots instead featured LeGarrette Blount, who was playing his first game in New England after being waived by the Steelers earlier in the week.
Gray had just 14 carries in the final six regular season games and was inactive with an ankle injury in Week 17 and the divisional round, but he had four late carries in the AFC Championship game.
No matter what he does in the Super Bowl, he's excited for the opportunity.
"It's a dream come true, man," he said. "I never thought in a million years I would be here. I never thought that this would be god's plan for me."
Gray can appreciate the experience because of everything it took to get here. He tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in November of his senior season at Notre Dame and went undrafted.
He spent his rookie year on Miami's physically unable to perform list. In his second NFL season, the Dolphins cut him out of training camp, and he spent the year on Baltimore's practice squad.
Then, in January 2014, the Patriots signed Gray to a reserve/future contract, but started the season on the practice squad. When Steven Ridley suffered a season-ending knee injury in Week 6, Gray received his promotion to the active roster.
With Blount, receiving back Shane Vereen and Brandon Bolden around, there might not be a lot of work for Gray in the Super Bowl, but Bolden said the beauty of the Patriots backfield is the diversity of players.
"We can make it any type of game with the backfield that we have, and I think that's why we do so good as a unit," Bolden said.
The problem in, the 230-pound Gray plays a similar role to the 250-pound Blount, who has significantly more experience. Either way, Bolden said Gray is a wanted commodity in the running back meeting rooms.
And even though that might be because of his sense of humor, Gray said he's not that funny during football season.
He's done some stand-up comedy, once opening for Dustin Diamond of "Saved by the Bell." This offseason, he plans to do some more comedy, though he hopes to do it somewhere warm instead of returning home to Pontiac.
Still, as he prepares for his first Super Bowl, Gray admits his upbringing in the downtrodden Detroit suburb played a big role in his ability to stay focused regardless of adversity.
"It had a huge impact on me," he said. "Growing up, seeing a lot of guys that were very talented not make it, growing up around a tough economically challenged area, it makes you appreciate what you have and it makes you want to work hard for it.
"And it motivates you to go back and do something for the community."