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Better Know a Gopher - MarQueis Gray, Leading With A Smile

This past summer I was delighted to get to spend some time with your Gopher starting quarterback. Because life (real job, moving, family, other stuff) got in the way I was never able to put the interview together into a story. But after MarQueis led the Gophers to an upset win over Iowa (again), playing what was arguably his best game in a Gopher uni, I thought this was the perfect time to pull out the transcript so we can all better know your Golden Gopher starting QB.

Before I get into how the kid from Indianapolis ended up at Minnesota and who he is as a leader of this Gopher offense I want to share his answer to my question about his favorite moment as a Golden Gopher.

Beating Iowa. We haven't won a trophy in so long and to win two games after losing so many just gives us confidence going into this next season. And that last game to be a trophy game, that was our bowl game to us. It just felt so good to have the fans love us like a normal college team should and having them rush onto the field. That was the best feeling I ever had.

I don't know if beating Iowa (again) out-ranks beating Iowa the first time, but I'm sure winning back-to-back games over Iowa is pretty special, especially considering this was his offense doing it the second time.

So how did a four-star recruit out of Indianapolis end up a Minnesota Golden Gopher?

Coach Brew and I liked the city. I wanted to go to a school that was in the city because that's where where I was comfortable with. I have family up here, they stay in Woodbury. And again the people here. They call it Minnesota Nice and I felt like this school would set me up for the best position to get a better job after college. That's the main reason that I came.

Interesting that for a change the fact that the U of Minnesota being an urban, commuter school wasn't a disadvantage. We often hear how challenging it is to win at Minnesota because it's lack of a tradition collegiate atmosphere turns off recruits. We also hear how having so many entertainment options and professional sports teams in town detracts from the college team and ends up turning off potential recruits. Not the case with Mr. Gray.

Back at home I have a couple friends that say that they wish would have gone to an inner-city school cause they stay at home all summer and there's nothing to do. When I stay up here there is always something to do. So I never go home, the most I do go home it is like a week and I be itching to get back up here. I don't see why people want to go to a city where there's nothing to do during the summer.

Getting him here probably wasn't easy for Coach Brewster but the road from there proved to be even more challenging. MarQueis had trouble gaining NCAA Clearinghouse clearance and was not allowed in school for what would have been his freshman season at Minnesota. We didn't talk much about that time, it came up as he was giving an ever-so-brief summary of MarQueis Gray and then things quickly turned back to football.

I'm originally from FT Wayne, IN, moved to Indianapolis when I was in 7th grade and my parents had separated. I moved with my mother and two brothers, my older brother Demarcus and younger brother Dontrell. Been living there ever since and went to Ben Davis High School. For football most people thought that we ran the spread offense but I was in the I-back formation under center. I don't know where it got assumed that I was in the shotgun.

I had a few (yards rushing) but I had more passing yards. Like 1,100 my junior year, my senior year I got hurt my first game, I broke my left arm and didn't come back until the playoffs. Then that is when I played my first game, a few snaps at receiver.

That is pretty much my story. In college, when I got here the NCAA questioned my test scores. I got sent home, retook the test, got the score, came back in January and went into spring ball. Competed and Weber got the job again.

That is the super-short version but that in no way is the story of MarQueis Gray. We all know what happened from there. He spent his freshman season getting a handful of snaps in the wildcat formation, he spent his sophomore year as a wide receiver and now is finally getting his chance to be the Gopher offensive leader and quarterback.

Much had been made of Adam Weber's career spanning five years and four offensive coordinators and how that may have stunted his growth. But Gray has not been immune to the same game of coordinator musical chairs and is now on his third coordinator in three years and throw in a position change in the middle of that.

It is hard because you see teams like Oregon and Ohio State with consistent coaching staffs and the guys having the same playbook year in and year out, knowing what to do. And then when we get a new coach every year then we've got guys like 'aw man new playbook, new blocking assignments, new routes and that just messes with our heads a little bit and that causes us not to play at our full speed'. So once you have a consistent staff, it encourages the guys, they have encouragement when they are playing knowing what they are doing. So switching coaching staffs is kind of frustrating but hopefully this staff is here to stay.

We still have stuff to put in after spring ball so we only installed maybe a little during spring ball and we still have more to do at camp. Hopefully guys get it quick cause the games go fast.

So I asked Gray to give me the first thing that comes to mind when I mention each of the coordinators he has had in his three years with the program.

Matt Limegrover - (without even 1 second of hesitation) "Love him, I love him. He's everything you could ask for in a coach. He's like big brother, uncle, he's there, he makes you laugh but then he'll get on you if you do something. As each week goes past we learn more and more about each other."

Jeff Horton - "I'll just say he's the best coach I've had since I've been here."

Jedd Fisch - " is hard." (silence then more silence) "I'd say smart."

But all of that is behind him and now Gray is growing into the role of quarterback and leader of the Gopher offense. The first seven games of the Gopher season have been very inconsistent for whoever has been under center. Gray started five of the seven giving up some time to the true freshman, Max Shortell. But the eighth game is the one where he started to show a new level of comfort, confidence and leadership.

Back in July I asked him about being a leader of the offense and what it takes, he told me then...

"Build guys up, interact with all of them and build a brotherly bond with offense and defense.

I'm not just saying this cause I do it, but smiling all the time. Letting the guys know that there is nothing wrong on or off the field, just being energized because no one wants to be around somebody that's negative or not happy or anything. So I try my best to be positive and smiling a lot so I can build these guys and make want to do something that they don't want to do."

But I think he has grown since that moment and it all started to come together last week as the Gophers, this time his Gophers beat Iowa (again). In the first half as the Gophers were struggling to move the ball because of penalties and a fumble he pulled the offense together on the sidelines and took control.

"At one point in the game, all of a sudden, I looked down from the press box and the whole offense was grouped up," Limegrover said. "Someone told me it was MarQueis that had called everybody up. You could hear him reading the riot act and getting after them. It was like right there that bright light went on. This is what he needs to do to take that next step."

Eventually the offense settled down, getting a touchdown before halftime on a pass to Collin McGarry.

And then the fourth quarter is where he proved his mettle as a leader of the offense getting the rest of the guys to do something that hasn't been done by a Gopher offense in a while. Down 11 points in the fourth quarter Gray led the following two touchdown drives for touchdowns.

  • 11 plays, 80 yards capped by a Duane Bennett touchdown
  • 12 plays, 59 yards for the game winning touchdown on 4th and goal!

On those final drives he was 4/5 throwing the ball for 53 yards and he rushed for 31 yards including the game-winner.

"He took this team in his hands," McKnight said. "He said we had to play harder because the defense was playing one of its best games and we also had to show up. He was determined for this offense to do well."

from Marcus Fuller's story on 11/3

Coach Kill has been telling him to quit trying to make friends and become the leader of the offense. It seems to be working. Gray played his best game statistically as a quarterback. But what is undoubtedly more important he put his stamp on this offense as his and the rest of the offense knows that they can rally behind him.

The leader of the Gopher offense is now unquestionably MarQueis Gray. I believe we are in good hands for the next 17 games before he turns the reigns over to someone else. There will certainly be ups and downs going forward but this kid is mature, he is intelligent, he is a good kid and I'm confident in his abilities to lead the Gopher offense.