Alabama State running back Ezra Gray is a business-minded young man. The Computer Science major has won as many accolades for his academic performance as he has his game on the field. He’s also one of the fastest backs in FCS football.
He saw the talk all week about how ASU was an underdog to new-look Jackson State with Deion Sanders heading into their matchup on ESPN2.
“I’ve seen a lot of people throughout the week count us out,” he said after the game. “It seemed like the whole country counted us out. We knew from jump — we all we got. So that’s what we’re sticking to.”
But when the dust settled over the high wall at ASU Stadium, the underdogs from Montgomery handed the favorites from Jackson their first loss of the season. And Gray had put the nation on notice of what he could do as well. The redshirt senior for Lynn Haven, FL rushed for a career-high 195 yards and scored three huge touchdowns in the 35-28 win.
“We knew…it’s a lot of hype coming into the game, with Coach Sanders coaching a pretty good Jackson State team, them coming in 3-0. Really it’s just a battle for the East. We knew the task at hand, and it wasn’t anything personal, it’s just business. Coach was telling us all week, don’t get caught up in anything that you don’t need to be caught up in. Control what you can control.”
Gray was a thorn in the side of JSU’s defense as the game wore on. But that’s not really a surprise to those who actually follow SWAC football. He had rushed for 706 yards on 157 during the 2019 campaign and was named to the preseason first-team All-SWAC at running back.
Gray puts as much effort in being great in the classroom as he does on the field. Possibly even more. Last year, he was named a First Team CoSIDA All-American and the ADA FCS All-Academic Team. He also was named an ADA Scholar-Athlete, earning a post-graduate scholarship. And the list goes on.
How does he do it?
“A lot of the side stuff I would like to do…I gotta realize that it’s about business now,” he said. “I’ve gotta take care of business. At the end of the day, you gotta know what you’re working towards. And I definitely have an end goal in my life and what I’d like to achieve. So if I’m not in progress of achieving that, I feel like I’m wasting my time.”
ASU coach Donald Hill-Ely says that Gray’s impact on his teammates goes beyond the field, noting that the number of players in his program with a 3.0 have progressed as Gray has..
“That’s our statement to the team,” he said. “That if you do everything that he does, and even fall short, that’s worth a 3.0. It’s been proven. He does a great job as a leader, and I’m just glad to be able to coach a guy like that.”
Saturday’s win over JSU was a career-day for Gray, and it came on a huge national platform. Much of that had to do with Deion Sanders presence as Jackson State’s coach. He has said he wants to shine a light on HBCU players that can play at the next level. And after that performance, Gray certainly opened up some eyes.
That didn’t stop Alabama State from having a little fun with handing Sanders his first loss as a head coach. Gray acknowledged catching a glimpse of the photo of a young Sanders on the video board after the game was over.
Having already said the game wasn’t personal for him, he put it into perspective.
“He’s a guy a lot of young athletes aspire to be like,” Gray said. “So props to him for creating a great legacy for himself.”
Ezra Gray might make it to play on Sundays, or he might not. But at least this one spring Saturday evening, the rest of the country got to see a part of what makes him someone to watch for the future.