Tennessee is looking to add more speed to their roster with their 2019 recruiting class. One of the prospects UT’s coaching staff have been targeting that would do just that is four-star running back and current Michigan commit Eric Gray.
The Vols have been pushing for Gray to flip to Tennessee, and he’s been listening to their pitch. Gray officially visited UT during their game against Florida, and he came back to campus for an unofficial visit when the Vols played Alabama.
According to the 247Sports Composite rankings, Gray is the No. 209 overall player in the country and is the No. 8 player in the state of Tennessee. Gray plays for Lausanne Collegiate School in Memphis, and he’s had an incredible senior season. Per MaxPreps, Gray has totaled 2,363 rushing yards and 39 touchdowns on just 210 carries in his senior year. That’s over an 11 yard per carry average this year. His team is still in the playoffs right now, so he’s not done racking up huge numbers either.
In his high school career, Gray has run for 8,051 yards and 123 touchdowns while averaging 9.7 yards a carry. According to the TSSAA, Gray’s 8,051 yards are the second-most in a career in state history.
Gray committed to Michigan back in July, and he said at the time that the school’s academics and his relationship with Jim Harbaugh were the reasons he committed to the Wolverines.
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“The academic part was overwhelming for me,” Gray told us in a recent interview. “I come from a private school, and all the work I’ve put in at a private school, I think that my academic level should be the same that it is as the school I’m at now.
“I think the coaches at Michigan were just great. Coach Harbaugh, Jay Harbaugh and Jim were very instrumental in me committing. When I went down there I felt loved, felt like it was a family atmosphere. It was just good.”
But that was four months ago. Time has passed, and Gray has started re-evaluate his recruitment.
According to Gray, the distance from Michigan’s Ann Arbor campus to his Memphis home could be become an issue with him and his family.
“When I first committed to Michigan, (my parents) were like, ‘We’re gonna make it work, we’ll find a way to do it,'” Gray stated. “But I know that’s just your parents not wanting to make an excuse and them wanting you to go where you want to go and for you to be happy.
“But being realistic about it, me going closer would help them a lot. It would save money, save on gas, and they could see me more.”
Distance has become a bigger factor for Gray the more he’s thought about it. In fact, that distance (and other factors) have prevented him from even being able to go attend a Michigan game this season.
“I’ve been trying to get to a game (at Michigan), but I just haven’t yet,” Gray explained. “I know how hard it is for me to get to a game, so I know it’s going to be even harder for my parents to get to a game. So I’m thinking about that and thinking about can I be the same player I want to be but do it closer? Can I do that at a Tennessee or an Ole Miss or a Michigan State, LSU, Bama, or somewhere like that rather than having to go so far away to do it?”
Though he’s not made the trip up to Michigan to see the Wolverines play, he’s twice visited the Vols in Knoxville to see them play. He’s also visited Ole Miss earlier this season and plans to take an official visit to their campus in the first week of December.
But for Gray, the proximity of UT certainly has an appeal.
“Knoxville is a great city. It’s not that far from home,” Gray said. “Michigan is kinda far from home. It’s like 11 hours from here. For my family to be able to hop in the car and go six hours, that’s not that bad of a drive. You can go three hours to Nashville then three hours to Knoxville.”
But it’s not just all about distance for Gray; he also values relationships and an offensive scheme that suits his playing style.
Gray says he wants to play for “an explosive offense that’s going to run the ball,” and he says he watches carefully how the teams that are recruiting him use their running backs.
“You see so many schools that run the RPO, but they’re more of a passing team. They’re kinda an air raid offense, so they’re going to pass really more than they run,” Gray explained. “I look for a school that’s going to be able to run the ball. When I’m looking at these games, I’m looking at who’s running the ball and how their running backs look when they run the ball. Are they getting their running backs in space? Are they throwing it to them?”
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A scheme is one thing, but Gray also wants to have a good relationship with his running backs, coach, his offensive coordinator, and his head coach. And Gray says Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt has what it takes to turn around UT’s football program.
“Coach Pruitt, I think he has a big vision for the program,” Gray said. “They’re not doing so hot this year, but they got a big win against Auburn, and they don’t have his players in there yet. I feel like once he gets his players in there, that program is gonna turn around.”
While Tennessee may not be in the same spot Michigan is right now, Pruitt has been selling Gray on what the future could hold for the Vols. And Gray says that pitch is something he’s familiar with and something he’s bought into before.
“It’s been a lot of (Pruitt) saying that I just gotta trust him,” Gray stated. “It’s just like when I was going into high school. I didn’t know where I wanted to go. There were a lot of places I could’ve gone to high school, but Lausanne was a school that hadn’t really won any games, and we had a new coach and a new coaching staff. They were just saying to trust the process, two or three years from now we’re going to have a state championship. And I bought into a vision that ninth grade year. I went to a school that hadn’t been to the playoffs. It was our first year going to the playoffs my ninth grade year.
“So I’m familiar with the process and trusting the process. Once you get the players in there, that’s how the program changes.”
The two years before Gray made it to Lausanne, the Lynx went 6-3 and 6-4 and failed to make the playoffs. As soon as Gray joined the team in 2015, they went 7-3 in the regular season and made it to the playoffs, losing in the quarterfinals.
Since that season, Lausanne hasn’t lost a single game, and they are looking for their third-straight state title right now.
Buying in to Lausanne’s pitch paid off for Gray, and Tennessee’s coaches are hoping he believes in them like he did his high school coaches.
Gray will be an early enrollee for whatever school he signs with, and the 5-foot-10, 193-pound running back will join the school of his choice in January and will look to participate early in spring practices next spring.