MarQueis Gray seeks song of salvation

  • Article by: PHIL MILLER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 31, 2011 - 7:12 AM

MarQueis Gray was starting to doubt he' d ever play football again until a hymn at church spoke to him and helped him find the resolve to fight on.


Less than a week before his first start at quarterback for the Gophers against Southern California, junior MarQueis Gray had on his Sunday best at TCF Bank Stadium.

Photo: Courtney Perry, Star Tribune

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger

The choir started singing, but MarQueis Gray tuned the music out. He had been absorbed all week, all month, all fall, about his status as a college football dropout, or more precisely, kick-out, and his future was on his mind again as he sat that Sunday morning in Olivet Missionary Baptist Church. So he didn't hear it at first.


"I made it through my storm, my test, Because you were there to carry me through my mess ..."

How had it come to this? A year earlier, it seemed every college football coach in the country knew his name, knew what sort of miracles he could pull off with ease on a football field. His high school had produced a Super Bowl champion in Corey Harris, an NCAA basketball champion in Randy Wittman and an Olympic gold medalist in soccer star Lauren Cheney -- but Gray, talent scouts judged, might outdo them all.

And yet here he sat in late 2008, in a pew next to his mother instead of a locker room with teammates, his football career scuttled by paperwork. By a test score that didn't look right to the NCAA, by a whisper campaign that had labeled him a cheater, by a bureaucracy that had left him feeling helpless.

"I would've lost my mind a long time ago, If it had not been for you..."

As he sat contemplating his plight back in late 2008, "still a little mopey," his mother judged, about the most difficult year of his life, Gray began listening to the lyrics of the Marvin Sapp hymn. Began hearing the soloist describe the same resolve that he suddenly felt within himself.

"I got this weird feeling in my body. I didn't want to be the one to let my family down, to let myself down," Gray says. "That song gave me a good feeling about life in general, that if I take it one step at a time, I can still achieve my dreams."

"And I can say I'm stronger, I'm wiser, I'm better, so much better ..."

Gray looked at his mother, Alicia, laid his head on her shoulder, "and just busted out in tears," he says. As the singers roared, he described to his mother his newly steeled resolve to play football, to go to college, to overcome everything that seemed to be conspiring to hold him back.

She began crying, too.

"I took his head in my hands and said, 'This is what you want, then do it. You'll be all right, don't you ever doubt it,'" Alicia Gray says. "That's when I knew this all would happen, because he wasn't going to let it not happen."

And all this is happening, it really is. MarQueis Gray is about to become the Gophers' starting quarterback, the leader of his team and focal point of his offense, and the adversity he has survived makes it all the sweeter. A broken arm, the shock of his grandmother's death, the NCAA and its cursed red flags, and a roadblock in the form of a veteran quarterback and a position switch -- Gray has survived, outlasted and overcome it all.

"I had some doubts," the 20-year-old quarterback says, just a few days before his debut at Southern California on Saturday, "but I tried to be more like, when will it come, not if. I just can't wait for that day."

• • •

MarQueis Gray has been an athlete since he was 3. First there were karate lessons, in a toddler-sized robe, then Little Dribblers basketball, then tee-ball, and always with a lesson: You join, you live up to your commitment.

MarQueis and his older half-brother, Damarcus Ganaway, once wanted to quit baseball, "but they wouldn't let us," Gray says of his parents. "We had to finish the season, because we had said we would."

Football, the sport his father, Donald, coached, was what he really wanted to play, though, so he would tag along to pee-wee practices, a 5-year-old trying to do push-ups with the 7-year-old players. His father gave him a whistle, and MarQueis would do a little coaching, too, smacking players on the head if they didn't follow his pipsqueak orders during callisthenics.

His dad tried to sneak MarQueis onto the pee-wee Tigers' roster a year early, but other players' parents complained to the league office about the precocious tyke and he was kicked off the team.

How familiar that feeling would become.

Gray grew into a football coach's dream, a 6-4 block of Indiana limestone who happened to possess the fastest legs and strongest arm on his Ben Davis High School team. Recruiters swarmed, and by the summer before his senior year, Gray had heard from half the teams in college football. He took a liking to Minnesota's new coach, Tim Brewster, and his top recruiter, Thomas Hammock, and came to Minneapolis on an official visit just a month into Brewster's Gophers career. The coach asked the wiry adolescent from a high school barely 2 miles from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to lead the team on its pregame "victory walk" into the Metrodome, and the reception he got from Minnesota fans floored him and his mother.

"So many people knew MarQueis' name, it scared me. 'MarQueis, we love you.' I said, 'OK, this is getting freaky now,'" recalls Alicia Gray, who divorced Donald when MarQueis was in fifth grade. "He ran around giving everyone high-fives, like he's Deion Sanders."

He eventually announced on national TV, during NBC's telecast of the U.S. Army High School All-America Game, one of the biggest victories of Brewster's career. "He proved we could recruit to Minnesota. He's one of the best athletes in the country," Brewster, fired as Gophers coach last October, said last month. "I know he'll do spectacular things."

But things had already begun going spectacularly, even tragically, wrong for Gray. After being tackled on the final play of his senior season's second game, Gray felt a piercing pain in his left arm. When the trainer asked him to squeeze a football, he couldn't. The diagnosis: broken arm, which kept him idle until the season's final weeks.

That seemed like a minor annoyance compared to the pain in his heart. A day after his grandmother, Melinda Rosse, moved in with his family, Gray heard the kitchen tap running nonstop. He descended the stairs to find his grandmother lying dead on the floor. He called 911 and his mother, and tried to keep his younger brother Dondrell upstairs.

And one more event would bring tears, and put a halt to Gray's career. He had taken the ACT exam as a freshman, and hadn't taken it particularly seriously, he says. When he retook the test early in his senior year, his score rose sharply -- suspiciously so, the NCAA believed. Some recruiters quit calling, scared off by rumors -- untrue, Gray swears -- that he had cheated. But the problem was behind him, he believed, when he moved to Minnesota for college.

Gray was resting in his dorm room one night during training camp, just a week before the season opener, when Hammock called. He told Gray to meet him outside, where he delivered more devastating news: The NCAA had rejected his ACT score and declared him ineligible. He couldn't receive a scholarship until he took the test a third time -- and he had to go home until then.

"It was hard. I cried, to be honest. Coach Ham, he cried with me," Gray says. "I had worked all summer, had gone through camp with my teammates, and now I couldn't play. I wasn't sure if I would ever play again. It was a heartbreaker."

He went back to Indianapolis, lined up a tutor to make sure he passed, and got a job selling electronics at Target, even handled the Black Friday sunrise rush. His mother deflected calls from coaches interested in luring him away from Minnesota while encouraging Brewster to stay in touch, and he followed the Gophers from afar.

But it wasn't until that breakthrough, or breakdown, at Olivet Missionary that he was sure he was going back. That he found the determination to finish the job.

• • •

Of course, it wasn't that easy. Adam Weber, holder of every career passing record at Minnesota, was in the way for two years, so Gray learned to catch passes as a way to stay busy. He never complained about rarely playing quarterback -- "You didn't even see bad body language out of him, because he wanted to contribute to the team," said BTN analyst Howard Griffin -- out of respect to Weber and to his own past. "With everything I had gone through, I wasn't going to" cause dissension on the Gophers, Gray says. "I just wanted to play football."

And now he will, as the man in charge of a new offense, for a new coach and a new staff. "The guy that's without question the best athlete on our squad is MarQueis Gray," said Jerry Kill, Brewster's successor. He reminds Kill of Terrelle Pryor, a former Rose Bowl MVP at Ohio State, with his elusiveness as a runner. "If MarQueis had had a lot of quarterback reps his first two years, he would be scary right now."

Instead, he's simply joyous, as bubbly as a 20-year-old can be while trying to absorb an entirely new offense before his big debut.

"It's work, but it's fun, too. I always have fun," Gray says. "But now that I'm going to be the quarterback, it's more fun. Way more fun."

  • related content

  • Gray at QB: a long time coming

    Sunday August 28, 2011

    MarQueis Gray last played a full season at quarterback as a junior at Ben Davis High School in Indianapolis. Here's a look at his long path to his first college...

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions


Kansas City - J. Guthrie 7:07 PM
San Francisco - T. Hudson
Detroit 10/26/14 8:30 AM
Buffalo 10/26/14 12:00 PM
NY Jets
St. Louis 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Kansas City
Houston 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Minnesota 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Tampa Bay
Seattle 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Baltimore 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Miami 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Chicago 10/26/14 12:00 PM
New England
Philadelphia 10/26/14 3:05 PM
Oakland 10/26/14 3:25 PM
Indianapolis 10/26/14 3:25 PM
Green Bay 10/26/14 7:30 PM
New Orleans
Washington 10/27/14 7:30 PM
New Orleans 10/30/14 7:25 PM
Dallas 41 2nd Qtr 6:57
Orlando 36
New York 12 1st Qtr 7:58
Toronto 9
San Antonio 7:00 PM
Miami 7:00 PM
Minnesota 7:00 PM
Phoenix 8:00 PM
Sacramento 9:00 PM
LA Lakers
Denver 9:30 PM
Golden State
Portland 9:30 PM
LA Clippers
Dallas 0 1st Prd 7:52
New Jersey 1
Tampa Bay 7:00 PM
Vancouver 8:00 PM
Carolina 8:30 PM
Columbus 9:00 PM
Connecticut 21 FINAL
(18) East Carolina 31
Miami-Florida 30 FINAL
Virginia Tech 6
So Florida 3 2nd Qtr
Cincinnati 10
Troy 3 1st Qtr 7:58
South Alabama 0
BYU 8:00 PM
Boise State
(6) Oregon 9:00 PM
North Texas 10/25/14 11:00 AM
UAB 10/25/14 11:00 AM
Rutgers 10/25/14 11:00 AM
(16) Nebraska
Maryland 10/25/14 11:00 AM
Texas 10/25/14 11:00 AM
(11) Kansas State
Minnesota 10/25/14 11:00 AM
Memphis 10/25/14 11:00 AM
North Carolina 10/25/14 11:30 AM
San Jose St 10/25/14 12:00 PM
Northern Ill 10/25/14 12:00 PM
Eastern Mich
(25) UCLA 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Akron 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Ball State
Massachusetts 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Ohio U 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Western Mich
Ga Southern 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Georgia State
Kent State 10/25/14 1:30 PM
Oregon State 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Fla Atlantic 10/25/14 2:30 PM
(23) Marshall
Louisiana Tech 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Southern Miss
(1) Miss State 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Georgia Tech 10/25/14 2:30 PM
(22) West Virginia 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Oklahoma State
Texas Tech 10/25/14 2:30 PM
(10) TCU
Michigan 10/25/14 2:30 PM
(8) Michigan State
Boston College 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Wake Forest
Central Mich 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Vanderbilt 10/25/14 3:00 PM
Old Dominion 10/25/14 3:00 PM
Western Ky
UNLV 10/25/14 3:00 PM
Utah State
Temple 10/25/14 4:00 PM
(15) Arizona 10/25/14 5:00 PM
Washington St
Texas-El Paso 10/25/14 6:00 PM
TX-San Antonio
Wyoming 10/25/14 6:00 PM
Colorado State
Syracuse 10/25/14 6:00 PM
(21) Clemson
Texas State 10/25/14 6:00 PM
(3) Ole Miss 10/25/14 6:15 PM
(24) LSU
(4) Alabama 10/25/14 6:30 PM
So Carolina 10/25/14 6:30 PM
(5) Auburn
(13) Ohio State 10/25/14 7:00 PM
Penn State
(20) USC 10/25/14 9:00 PM
(19) Utah
(14) Arizona State 10/25/14 9:45 PM
Nevada 10/25/14 10:59 PM
(2) Florida State 10/30/14 6:30 PM
Troy 10/30/14 6:30 PM
Ga Southern
Cincinnati 10/31/14 7:00 PM
Tulsa 10/31/14 7:00 PM
Purdue 11/1/14 2:00 AM
(16) Nebraska
(17) Oklahoma 11/1/14 2:00 AM
Iowa State
Oklahoma State 11/1/14 2:00 AM
(11) Kansas State
(10) TCU 11/1/14 2:00 AM
(22) West Virginia
Texas 11/1/14 2:00 AM
Texas Tech
Northwestern 11/1/14 2:00 AM
Maryland 11/1/14 2:00 AM
Penn State
Houston 7:00 PM
Montreal 10 2:21
Ottawa 7
Saskatchewan 8:30 PM
Hamilton 10/25/14 3:00 PM
Brt Columbia 10/25/14 6:00 PM
Hamilton 10/31/14 6:30 PM
Winnipeg 11/1/14 3:00 PM
Brt Columbia 11/1/14 6:00 PM
Toronto 11/2/14 11:00 AM
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters


Date/Opponent Time W L Score
2014 season     
Aug 28 - vs. E. Illinois 6 pmX42-20
Sep 6 - vs. M. Tennessee St. 2:30 pmX35-24
Sep 13 - at TCU 3 pmX30-7
Sep 20 - vs. San Jose St. 3 p.m.X24-7
Sep 27 - at Michigan 2:30 pmX30-14
Oct 11 - vs. Northwestern 11 amX24-17
Oct 18 - vs. Purdue 11 amX39-38
Oct 25 - at Illinois 11 am
Nov 8 - vs. Iowa TBA
Nov 15 - vs. Ohio State TBA
Nov 22 - at Nebraska TBA
Nov 29 - at Wisconsin TBA




question of the day

Poll: Who wins and loses in football this weekend?

Weekly Question