MarQueis Gray sat quietly behind a microphone on a postgame riser. He stared blankly and his body language suggested he was an unhappy camper.
Gray had just lost to rival Wisconsin for a fourth consecutive season while playing wide receiver on an injured ankle. No, this is not what the senior quarterback envisioned for his final season.
But then he spoke and his character poured out. He promised to help the true freshman quarterback who took his spot. He vowed to make the most of his new position and the final stretch of his college career. He was disappointed but not disruptive. Nor did he sound jealous or bitter during a series of subsequent interviews that focused primarily on the bright future of his successor, Philip Nelson.
That says a lot about Gray as a person.
"I know what's expected of me," he said. "I'm held in high regard on this team. I want to make sure the guys see me as a leader and not a selfish guy, so it wasn't hard at all for me to switch from quarterback to receiver."
Gray's career has reached its twilight with three games remaining, including a bowl game. The promise that accompanied his heralded arrival in Dinkytown is a distant memory. As is often the case in athletics, Gray's career arc followed a different path than what once seemed predestined.
He had some nice moments and games at quarterback but never developed consistency as a passer. He alternated between quarterback and receiver over the years and was productive at both. But the true measure of his impact on the Gophers program can be found in the way coaches, players and support staff look up to him and admire him. And also in how he's handled disappointment and setbacks.
Gray never became that elite quarterback, but he is a beloved teammate. He's endured his share of tough moments and pointed criticism, but he's always conducted himself with dignity and class. Those things should not go overlooked.
"I'm still a quarterback at heart," he said. "Love playing the position. But it's one of those things where you have to make sacrifices. Coach asked me to play receiver. That's something I need to do to better my team and get a jump-start on my future."
Gray had big plans for his senior season. He wanted to become one of the Big Ten's top quarterbacks. It just didn't materialize, and injuries prompted the coaching staff to turn things over to Nelson, a decision that Jerry Kill discussed in a heart-to-heart talk with Gray.
Gray's leg injuries made it difficult for him to play quarterback in the Gophers system, and they didn't want him shuffling in and out of the lineup. They also agreed that Gray's best hope to play in the NFL is at receiver or, more likely, as a pass- catching tight end.
Gray hadn't performed well enough to stake a claim to the quarterback position, but that didn't negate his disappointment or pride in wanting to finish something he started. But he also knew his reaction would have an effect on the team, particularly the younger players but even veterans, too. He refused to set a negative tone or undermine the coaching staff's credibility by pouting or giving a half-hearted effort in practice.
"I just want to let the coaches know they made the right decision," Gray said. "They always told me that I'm too good of a player to be on the sideline with them. I wasn't going to help the team sitting on the sidelines."
Gray has projected a positive attitude and tried to make the most of the situation. He approached Kill in the facility a few weeks ago and put his arm around his coach. He told Kill that he looked tired, that he was worried about him and wanted to make sure he was feeling OK.
"That's the type of kid he is," Kill said.
Kill said Gray is "trying his guts out" to be productive at receiver while still not healthy. He has 12 catches for 121 yards in five games. Gray admits his route-running needs refining and thanked receivers coach Pat Poore for "doing a great job of being patient with me."
Gray just wishes he had more time to get acclimated to his new role. He wishes he could slow down the ticking clock and make his final season last a little longer.
"It's like, man, this came by too fast," he said.
He paused, shook his head and smiled.
"A lot of coaching changes, a lot of playbooks, I've been through it all," he said. "But I'm happy that I decided to come to this school. With everything that's happened, I have no regrets coming here."
Chip Scoggins • firstname.lastname@example.org