What do you accomplish by 8 a.m. in the morning? For some, a shower, maybe breakfast — for most, nothing. But by that time, junior Austin Gray is usually stalking his prey in a field of weeds or floating comfortably on a lake, waiting to catch a bite.
Gray is a college student, DI wide receiver, humanitarian, hunter, fisherman’s son and brother — CSU’s very own energizer bunny. Gray chooses to wake up at 4 a.m. everyday so that he could squeeze the most out of each waking moment.
“He loves the great outdoors like his dad. They share that passion,” his mother, Jana Gray said. “He certainly did not get the ability to wake up early from me.”
After four years of spring ball, summer workouts and fall camps, all interlaced with dawn-time excursions, Gray has no plans of slowing down. It’s not in his make-up.
Born in Abilene, Texas, Gray was raised with a sense of purpose. A talented athlete in high school, Gray had dreams of being a DI football player from the beginning. But by his senior year, that dream seemed out of reach.
He had not received any offers from schools for the sport, but he had garnered plenty of interest for his prowess on the track. He specialized in horizontal jumps and sprints, and was good enough to get offers from Texas A&M and Texas Tech, where they planned to make him a decathlete.
“I was at the point where I hadn’t received any offers, so I made plans to go run track,” he said. “But I had made it a goal to make it to the next level.”
CSU recruiter Jerry Pettibone is the man responsible for getting Gray noticed for his hands instead of his feet. A former college football player and assistant coach at the University of Oklahoma, Pettibone then made a name for himself as a college recruiter.
He was helping put one of Gray’s high school teammates on the DI map when he came across Gray in a highlight videos.
“I kept seeing number 88 popping up all over the field,” Pettibone said. “There he was playing wide receiver, making plays, playing free safety making plays, the next time I looked up he was kicking field goals, then punting the ball — this guy never left the field.”
Pettibone immediately began making calls, finding out that no. 88 was Austin Gray, a senior at Abilene Wiley, who currently had no offers to play DI football.
Pettibone would change that.
“That was pivotal. Once that happened, he started getting Austin noticed,” Jana Gray said. “Sure enough, Austin started getting calls, but Colorado State was his first one.”
Gray says fishing and hunting with his father and younger brother are the best memories from his childhood, so when he came to Fort Collins on his official visit, he fell in love. He found a place to combine all his passions and people to share them with. He even bought a boat over the summer.
“I go hunting and fishing with him, but I can only get up at 4 a.m. every now and then,” junior receiver Thomas Coffman says. “He’s crazy, but he’s one of my best friends.”
The only piece missing is his family. His sister followed him to Colorado and is a sophomore at CSU, but the rest of his immediate and extended family still reside in Abilene. His parents come out to games as much as their schedules allow, but Gray misses their constant presence and they miss him.
“He’s always been a great leader,” Jana Gray says. “Parents will come up to me and tell me how great Austin is with the younger kids, how he leads by example. I’m more proud of that than I am of his accomplishments.”
With a list of virtues a mile long and the schedule of a mad-man, Gray could quit while he’s ahead — but he has an unslakable thirst to burn energy. Whether he’s catching balls, tossing a line, or coaching kids or mounting a deer, he keeps an eye on the horizon to see what’s next.
“Austin was one of the best athletes in Texas, but he’s also a great young man,” Pettibone said. “I have a lot of respect for Austin Gray.”Football Beat Reporter Cali Rastrelli can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @c_rasta5