Playing the game you love in front of your hometown fans is the dream of every athlete. For Western running back Derek Gray Jr., it is a dream he gets to live out every time he takes the field here at Spratt Memorial Stadium.
Gray, a 2014 graduate of St. Joseph Central High School, is a senior this year and is looking to end his career on a high note while finishing up in his hometown of St. Joseph.
“It means a lot to be able to accomplish all that I have and to be able to do it in my hometown. It feels good to be able to have people in my corner pushing me and cheering me on. It’s an honor to be able to play in my hometown,” Gray said.
After a stellar career at Central where Gray received All-Conference honors as both a running back and kick returner, Gray made the decision to keep his roots and play for the hometown Griffons. Throughout his five seasons in the Western backfield, Gray has been a very consistent back, as well as a vocal leader.
After a redshirt freshman season that saw Gray manage 5.5 yards per carry, his workload has increased in each of the coming seasons. When asked about his influence, Gray again speaks to consistency in his approach.
“Honestly, my approach hasn’t changed at all during my time here. I have kept the same mind set throughout my 5 years, just wanting to be a leader that everyone can follow, and I want to be able to give advice to the younger kids,” Gray said.
This season, Gray is being thrust into a somewhat unknown role, serving as the elder statesman in a crowded backfield made up of younger guys. Being the only senior in the backfield allows for Gray to set the tone as a leader and help establish the identity of the position group. When asked about how he wants this year’s squad to be remembered, Gray keeps it very simple.
“ I want people to look back on this team and realize that we were a team that played together. We played hard, fast and won games!” Gray said.
Western is set to open their 49th season on Thursday, Aug. 30, as they travel to Maryville to take on the Bearcats of Northwest Missouri State. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:00 P.M.