Even for U's bowl game, defining Gray's role is hard

  • Article by: PHIL MILLER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 8, 2012 - 8:20 PM

MarQueis Gray isn't sure if he'll close out his Gophers career as a receiver or quarterback. He's still practicing at both for postseason.

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MarQueis Gray was contained by the Michigan State defense.

Photo: Marlin Levison, Star Tribune

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MarQueis Gray claims not to know whether his wedding will come off Wednesday as long planned -- "I still have to talk to Coach about that," Gray said coyly about the potential conflict with a football practice that day -- but perhaps he just doesn't want the details published in a newspaper. Fair enough.

Gray is a lot more convincing, however, when he professes ignorance about another pressing topic: his role in the Gophers' offense at the Meineke Car Care Bowl.

"I'm not sure," Gray said Saturday after the Gophers' second practice in preparation for the Dec. 28 finale to his five-year career at Minnesota. "Most likely, I'll be the backup [quarterback]. Go in and get reps at quarterback, then play receiver, like I did my sophomore year."

That 2010 season ended with Gray providing a glimmer of promise in a dreary season by showing off, in the Gophers' final two games, the effortless way he seemed to gain yardage by scrambling with the ball at quarterback, while also making 42 catches as a receiver. Now, however, the two- position responsibility is one of necessity: With the early departure of backup quarterback Max Shortell, Gray is the only experienced quarterback behind starter Philip Nelson.

Right down to his final day as a Gopher, in other words, Gray's position isn't exactly clear.

"I've been getting reps at quarterback as well as receiver," Gray said of the Gophers' bowl preparations. "That's what's given me the idea I could play both."

Yeah, that and his entire Minnesota career. The game with Texas Tech officially will be Gray's 25th start as a Gopher -- 13 as a receiver and 12 as a quarterback. He has thrown for 2,045 yards in four seasons, and gained 2,438 by catching passes or running. He has passed for 14 touchdowns, and gotten to the end zone himself 18 times. Perhaps the bowl game could be a chance to showcase his pass-catching skills for NFL scouts, or to take a few snaps one last time.

And if it's both? How fitting.

Gophers coach Jerry Kill has spoken several times about how good a quarterback Gray might be had he focused exclusively on that position since his arrival in Minneapolis, and the same undoubtedly can be said about his ability as a wide receiver. Gray made it clear he always wanted to be the quarterback -- but now that his career is nearly over, he's not complaining about how it all worked out.

"I'd have to say [it's been] memorable," Gray said. "I've done a lot of stuff here, a lot of ups and downs. But I know it's going to stick with me through, hopefully, my long-term career playing football. But if not, I still had fun. I have no regrets coming here."

And Kill feels the same way.

Gray was chosen the Gophers' most valuable player last month, and while it was partly based on his play on the field -- counting passing, rushing and receiving yards, Gray narrowly led the team in total yardage -- it was also a reflection of his worth to his teammates.

"It's a respect thing," Kill said. "The unselfishness. ... Everybody knows athletically what he brings, [so] it's been frustrating for him. It really has to do more with [being] a good teammate."

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    U vs. Texas Tech • 8 p.m. Dec. 28

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