February 20, 2018 10:23:53 PM
Dontae Gray admits he would have preferred to have had a lower profile Tuesday morning.
With a local television station and newspaper and a conference room packed with administrators, teammates, friends, and classmates on hand, Gray couldn't help but be the center of attention.
Truth be told, Gray said later, he wouldn't have minded if he could have slipped in, signed his letter of intent to play football at the United States Military Academy in West Point, New York, and slipped out.
But Gray hasn't disappointed in his time at Heritage Academy, so he wasn't going to start on a day he officially announced his college plans. That's why he was dressed in a black blazer and a black tie in honor of Army's Black Knights and was more than willing to take a few dozen pictures to commemorate the occasion.
"All of this is great, but I was just happy to go up there and play football," Gray said.
Gray said he received an offer to play football at Army at the end of his senior football season. He said he made his decision to go to West Point around Christmas.
Gray said his father's service in the Army and the service of several other family members influenced his decision. Louis Gray is a Lt. Colonel in the Army.
Gray said he welcomes the opportunity to serve his country. He said he visited the campus and liked the coaches he met when he toured the school.
"You get an Ivy League education and you get to serve your country, so it is a definitely a lot more," Gray said. "Playing football is natural. ... My dad told me if I put the work in I can go play anywhere, and that is what happened."
Gray shared The Dispatch's Small Schools Offensive Player of the Year the last two seasons. In 2016, he shared it with teammate Tyler Anderson. This past season, Gray shared the award with Starkville Academy's Noah Methvin.
Gray played an integral role in the football team's 9-3 season in 2017. He paced Heritage Academy with 1,275 yards rushing and 18 touchdowns. He added 835 receiving yards and seven touchdowns. Gray complemented that with one interception and more than 40 tackles.
Heritage Academy football coach Sean Harrison said Gray's commitment to his teammates and to the school makes him a special athlete and a special young man.
"Academically, he did what he was supposed to do to afford him this opportunity," Harrison said. "Athletically, he did whatever was asked to help his team. He didn't miss workouts. He didn't slack in practice. He is one of those kids who is a dream to coach and you don't have to worry about. On weekends, you knew where he was, so you didn't have to worry about that. He did everything the right way."
Harrison credited Dontae's parents, Consuela and Louis, for teaching him how to become a man and to be humble through all of the attention he earned.
Gray attracted plenty of interest from defenses the last two years. Still, Harrison said Gray was able to make plays whenever the Patriots needed them.
"He deserves more attention than he gets because he is so quiet and unassuming that sometimes people take him for granted," Harrison said. "If you needed a big play, he gave it to you because he knew his team needed it. He provided that spark when he needed to.
"He is a good, humble kid who hates the spotlight but keeps ending up in it because he does things the right way."
Heritage Academy boys basketball coach Russ Whiteside, who also was the defensive coordinator for the football team, also credited Dontae's parents for instilling character and a work ethic in their son. He said Gray's work ethic "is second to none" and he always has received a great attitude from his senior point guard who is averaging 12.5 points, four assists, and three rebounds a game.
"He does what he is supposed to. He does it to the best of his ability and he moves on," Whiteside said. "He is a great leader by example."
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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