Former NFL player Gray found his way in life at Judson

Former NFL player Gray found his way in life at Judson

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Former NFL player Gray found his way in life at Judson

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Derwin Gray, now pastor of a church in South Carolina, played safety under Coach D.W. Rutledge at Judson High School in 1987 and 1988.

Derwin Gray, now pastor of a church in South Carolina, played safety under Coach D.W. Rutledge at Judson High School in 1987 and 1988.

The Judson High School campus has changed dramatically since former NFL player Derwin Gray played safety for the Rockets’ football team in the late 1980s.

The old school was razed in 2011 to make way for a new one, and the field house where Judson football teams were first assembled during boot camp in the offseason is also history.

“Even though it’s a new building, it still felt like home,” Gray said Thursday after speaking at the Texas Coaches Leadership Summit at Lila Cockrell Theatre. “The sights, the sounds, the feelings, the memories, I was back at home. My home life was so chaotic, but Judson was like a sanctuary.

“It was structure, it was discipline, it was purpose, it was focus. It was you can be anything you want to be, but it’s going to require something of you. Going back was beautiful. Getting to see my picture in the locker room, and just seeing all the old symbols of what used to be. It was awesome. I wish I could do it more.”

Now 43, Gray is the founder and pastor of Transformation Church in Indian Land, S.C. He shared his story with about 750 coaches at the Leadership Summit, the signature event of the Texas High School Coaches Education Foundation.

Former Judson football coach D.W. Rutledge, 63, serves as executive director of the Texas High School Coaches Education Foundation and the Texas High School Coaches Association.

Gray, a highly sought speaker who has written two books, had a powerful message for his audience at the Leadership Summit and delivered it eloquently.

“You are in a strategic position to influence lives,” Gray said. “There are three things you can do to have an impact on student-athletes beyond the game. You need a vision for wanting to do that. You need a strategy for wanting to do that. Thirdly, you need a staff to buy into wanting to coach to transform lives.

“When you’re done and you’re old and you’re gray and you’ve got grandkids, what do you want people to say about your leadership as a coach? What type of athlete do you want to build? That doesn’t start then. That starts today with a vision of the future that transforms what you do today.”

Derwin Gray, right, with former Judson football coach D.W. Rutledge, center, and O'Connor football coach David Malesky, who also played with the Rockets.

Derwin Gray, right, with former Judson football coach D.W. Rutledge, center, and O’Connor football coach David Malesky, who also played with the Rockets.

A 1989 Judson graduate, Gray started high school at Fox Tech and transferred during his sophomore year. He played on the Rockets’ varsity in 1987 and 1988, and became one of best defensive backs in the state. Dallas Carter beat Judson in the 1988 Class 5A state final, but the Rockets were later awarded the championship after the UIL stripped Carter of the title for using an ineligible player.

Gray had a stellar college career at BYU and made the Indianapolis Colts’ roster as a rookie safety in 1993 after getting drafted by the team in the fourth round. He played five seasons with the Colts (1993-97) before finishing his career with the Carolina Panthers in 1998.

Gray credits Rutledge and his coaching staff for putting him on the path to success with their passion and commitment to mold young lives.

“I could list Judson’s state championships, the winning percentage and the consecutive winning seasons, and I could go on and on, but the one thing at Judson we never talked about was winning football games,” Gray said. “Coach Rutledge and his staff had a vision to build great mean, and if you won games, that was awesome. But the priority was to build great men who could influence society.

“What happened to me when I went to Judson is I got caught up in a vision that was so much bigger than me that I could never comprehend it. But that vision was able to pull me toward a future I didn’t know existed for me. As a leader, you have the honor and the privilege to look into the souls of young men and young women and see what they don’t see. And when you give them a vision of what could be, it changes everything.”

Raised primarily by his grandmother, Gray recalled growing up poor and living on welfare.

“I know what it’s like to stand in line for government cheese,” Gray said.

He recalled the day he first heard Rutledge talk about the importance of developing a strong work ethic.

“Coach Rutledge said that every day you work in the classroom and on the football field, you are making an investment that’s going to pay off,” Gray said. “That vision grabbed me. Once I got that vision of a work ethic, there wasn’t anything that I thought I could not do.

“You have to understand that I came from a family where I was the first one to graduate from high school, not to be in jail as a man, not have a drug addiction, not have a child outside of marriage. So my vision of what life could be was very limited. But when I went to Judson and there was a vision to create great men, I got swept up in a vision that pulled greatness out of me that I didn’t even know I had.”

Judson graduate Derwin Gray, speaking at last Thursday's Texas Coaches Leadership Foundation, played at BYU and had a six-year career in the NFL.

Judson graduate Derwin Gray, speaking at last Thursday’s Texas Coaches Leadership Foundation, played at BYU and had a six-year career in the NFL.

Rutledge, 63, became synonymous with his mantra of coaching to change lives throughout his stellar career. In fact, he co-authored a book titled “Coaching to Change Lives” with former Judson offensive coordinator Dennis Parker.

“That’s the greatest thing about coaching, watching those kids grow up and seeing what they’ve become,” Rutledge said. “Derwin Gray is as good as you could hope for. What he came from and what he’s made out of himself all goes back to his personal work ethic.

“When he first came to us after transferring from Fox Tech, he couldn’t keep up with the tempo of our workouts in the offseason. He was just really out of shape, so we kind of put him on an extra conditioning deal. He worked like crazy, and he does the same thing in everything that he does. He’s touching a lot of lives. There’s no doubt he’s making a difference.

Rutledge was defensive coordinator at Judson for four seasons before succeeding Frank Arnold as head coach in 1984. The Rockets went 198-31-5 in 17 seasons under Rutledge, winning four 5A state titles and making the playoffs 16 times.

Rutledge resigned in March 2001 to take an administrative job with the THSCA and became executive director of the organization in September 2003.

“The challenge for coaches is to get their athletes to understand that working hard is an investment,” Rutledge said. “You’ve got to sell them on investing in being a good man and working on character traits and attitude traits. It’s not just the physical stuff. It goes beyond that.”

Derwin Gray knows whereof he speaks.

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