MADISON, WIS. - MarQueis Gray has stiff-armed his inevitable future for four years now. On Saturday, he seemed to embrace it. Grudgingly.
A twice-injured ankle limited the Gophers' senior leader too severely for him to practice at his preferred position this week. And with the Gophers' record melting in the heat of a Big Ten schedule, Gray's dream of a heroic season at quarterback came to an apparent end, too.
Gray lined up Saturday at receiver, the position he excelled at as a freshman and sophomore, but one he always insisted was his second choice. He caught three passes, gained 20 yards, and watched Philip Nelson grow into the shoes he always wanted to wear.
Then, in what felt oddly like a farewell, he acknowledged that circumstances had changed, both with his team and in his own life.
"Anywhere I have a chance to play NFL games, that's the thing I'm going to do," said Gray, a soon-to-be-married father of two, who was once described by the coach who recruited him, Tim Brewster, as a potential first-round pick -- as a wide receiver. "I have a family to look after, and if I'm a receiver at the next level, then that's what I'm going to play."
Gray publicly supported his young successor, even offered him advice before the game and on the sideline.
"I told him, 'Just go through your reads, make plays,'" Gray said. "He made plays out there, and he got some rhythm going."
But Gray's body language after the game seemed to reflect the loss to the Badgers, as well as the loss of his position. He acknowledged that this past month, being too injured to quarterback his team, isn't easy to accept.
"It's painful not being out there, not being 100 percent like I was in the first game," Gray said. "But that's the game of football. I gotta keep doing my rehab and hopefully continue to get better."
He hasn't taken his last snap, coach Jerry Kill said. The Gophers, having sacrificed Nelson's redshirt, are basically committed to finishing the season with the freshman under center, but Kill said Gray could morph into a valuable change of pace.
"It doesn't mean you won't see MarQueis play some quarterback. Right before I got the job [in 2010], MarQueis came in and did some things like that," Kill said. "The other part of it is, MarQueis is a valuable receiver. We've got to get him healthy and feeling good."
That part, Gray certainly agrees with. What position he plays isn't up to him, Gray understands.
"I'm just focusing on getting my injury back in order so I'm able to go out there and play full speed, whether it's at receiver or quarterback," Gray said. "It really doesn't matter to me."
It once mattered a lot to him, and it sounded like it still does. But as Kill said, "I think MarQueis' future -- he knows where it is in the long run."