What Southern Miss football is getting in Oak Grove star JQ Gray

·3 min read

HATTIESBURG — Oak Grove star and recent Southern Miss football commit JQ Gray was never exactly slow – you don't run a 4.34-second 40-yard dash without a certain degree of natural speed.

But don't make the mistake of assuming Gray's quickness came free. Never the fastest player on his teams growing up, one day Gray told his father he wanted to be a better football player. Hours upon hours of toil crafted Gray into an athlete capable of posting such an eye-popping time.

"I had to work for it," Gray said. "I started running on the parachute and stuff in middle school."

These days, Gray isn't merely an asset for the Oak Grove offense. Thanks to his own determination, he's a hypersonic threat.

A running back throughout his younger years, Gray moved into the slot out of necessity during his sophomore season. As a junior, Gray returned to the backfield. Next season, Oak Grove head coach Drew Causey says he'll deploy Gray in a hybrid role that allows him to do both.

"Get the ball in his hands as much as possible and see how many touchdowns he can score," Causey said.

"Our goal is to get him the ball 20-25 times a game and just let him go make plays."

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The open field is Gray's stage. Whenever he receives the ball one-on-one with a defender, in his mind, the act should conclude with Gray trotting into the end zone.

That's why Gray quickly felt comfortable at the wide receiver position. Despite his background as a running back, he's starting to think he might be better out of the slot.

"At running back, you gotta be able to read the hole, follow the direction of the play, you gotta be able to do all that," Gray said. "Receiver, it’s you versus whatever defense they’re playing, and once you catch the ball it’s all up to you. If you shake a defender, you can take that somewhere, versus at running back, if you shake a defender you got seven more guys to get rid of."

Still, Gray values the opportunity to play both positions at the next level – a key part of the Southern Miss recruiting pitch.

More important, though, was the way the Golden Eagles staff interacted with him. Will Hall and his assistants showed an interest in getting to know Gray as a human, and that approach resonated.

"They made me feel like I was more than just a football player, like I was a person too," Gray said. "I really liked that."

Gray wasn't particularly looking to stay close to home. He held offers from Memphis, South Alabama, Tulane and Arkansas State and was ultimately just searching for the right environment and a program where he'd be needed.

He decided that school was Southern Miss on June 25, when he announced his verbal commitment to stay in Hattiesburg as part of the Golden Eagles' Class of 2023.

After watching Gray rush for 885 yards and pick up 550 more through the air last season, Causey kept things ambiguous when asked to project whether Gray would be a running back or wideout at the collegiate level.

It might not matter, after all. Just get him the ball and watch him run.

"I think he's one of these guys that you figure out how to get him the ball in space to let him go make plays," Causey said. "Whether that’s giving him an outside zone, giving him speed sweeps, throwing him a screen, throwing him a bubble, just any way to get him the ball quickly where he can go make plays is kind of what I see out of him."

Reach Southern Miss writer David Eckert at deckert@gannett.com or on Twitter @davideckert98.

This article originally appeared on Hattiesburg American: What Southern Miss football is getting in 2023 ATH JQ Gray