Eric Gray posted onto his snapchat story the night before signing day:
Signing Day tomorrow, 12 o’clock at Lausanne. Memphis, Ole Miss, Texas A&M, South Carolina.
That list of schools had one clear omission: Tennessee. Messages started pouring in, asking what happened to the program that seemingly had stolen him away from Michigan.
“Everybody was texting me about, ‘What about Tennessee?'” Gray recalled Friday. “I was like, ‘Hey, you saw the four names.'”
Sure enough, on signing day at Lausanne Collegiate School in Memphis, four hats sat on the table, none of which were Tennessee.
Then he pulled that fifth hat out from under the table.
It was a surprise to end a whirlwind of a recruitment journey.
Gray laughed when talking about the hat stunt. He wants to be great, and he wants to continue shocking people. Everybody assumed Gray was going to Tennessee; he wanted some theatrics.
He’s hoping to show some more in his final high school game at the All-American Bowl in San Antonio on Saturday.
“Definitely gonna score a touchdown,” he said. A guarantee? “I ain’t gonna say no guarantees, but that’s what my mindset’s on this game.”
So no guarantee, but don’t be surprised if Gray does find the end zone. This season, he rushed for 2,499 yards and 40 scores. That was almost pedestrian compared to his junior season of 3,151 yards and 45 touchdowns.
“Trying to keep that high school going (Saturday),” he said. “Go out with a bang.”
It was the summer after this junior year that Gray committed to Michigan. But after announcing, he just wasn’t able to visit the university again. It was an 11-hour journey, and he began to consider: If he isn’t even able to visit his new school, how will his family be able to come up to watch him play consistently?
Gray said his mom was an important part of the factor. Gray began thinking he needed to find a place closer to home.
Luckily for him, even after his commitment, the other programs didn’t let up.
“I definitely got a text message from somebody every day when I was committed, just saying, ‘I know you’re committed, but if you ever have second thoughts…'” Gray said.
Some programs, like Texas A&M, were respectful of his decision and rarely contacted him until he decommitted from Michigan at the beginning of December. But others – Memphis specifically – were extremely aggressive in their pursuit, even after it appeared he would be a Wolverine.
But nothing’s official until the papers are signed, and Gray is not a rare case. Colleges pursue the players they want until they no longer can.
Gray actually preferred it that way.
“We want to feel important — that’s a place where you’re wanted, not tolerated,” he said. “Just to know that you’re still wanted, even though you’re committed, they’re still pushing for you, that’s the type of school you want to go to.”
In the end, the prospect of staying close to home outweighed all others. He decommitted from Michigan.
Texas A&M hit him up, but his mom didn’t have the chance to check out the school, so it was crossed off the list. Ole Miss “was definitely a factor early,” but it didn’t stand out like some of the others.
He “almost went to” South Carolina, but “ultimately, it was just too late. I kind of already up my mind.”
It was Tennessee, the program that hasn’t had 10-win season since 2007. The school with consecutive losing seasons.
Gray sees it as a challenge.
“It’s kind of what like I went through in high school,” he said. “They had never made the playoffs, they were a five-win team.”
Over Gray’s three years as a starter, Lausanne went 39-1 with two state championships.
He wants to do it all over again. Another chance to etch himself in the history book.
“Those are the type of places where you get your jersey retired,” Gray said. “Where you can go down and say this is the guy that brought Tennessee back relevant.”