His brother is the one that plays professional baseball. But it was Jack Gray that looked like he had a baseball inside of his hand.
That’s right — on the inside of his skin.
Needless to say, Gray had broken his hand only a few days before Northeastern State was supposed to open the 2013 football season at Pittsburg State.
“It got to be about a baseball-sized swelling thing on top of my hand, and it was pretty bad,” Gray recalled. “Like when I moved my fingers around, it would go, ‘crunch, crunch’ and making a crunching sound.”
Gray — the brother of Colorado Rockies draftee and current Tulsa Drillers hurler Jon Gray — was set to begin his senior season, but a special teams drill during practice put a damper on that.
“We were in half pads, and we were doing kick-off return,” Gray said. “I just went to hook up with a block, and I got a helmet that hit me in the back of the hand. Then it just swelled up.”
Opting to try and play in the RiverHawks’ season-opening game in southeast Kansas, Gray wrapped his hand and played against the Gorillas with what looked like a club on his left side.
“It was pretty terrible,” Gray said of his five-tackle performance during NSU’s 45-6 loss to Pittsburg State. “I couldn’t use it at all. It was pretty bad.”
Turns out, Gray’s tackle of Pittsburg State’s Marquise Cushon in the second quarter at Carnie Smith Stadium was his last of the season. The 6-foot-1, 240-pound linebacker decided to sit out the rest of the season.
“It was a lot different,” Gray said of standing on the sidelines and having to watch. “It sucked because I wanted to be able to help. Me and Langston (Jones) had been playing together for a long time. It was tough, but I’ve got to look past that, I guess.”
Gray used the time off to get his hand healed up. Now he’s convinced his left hand is far superior to the one on his right side.
“They put a plate in my hand. I had to do surgery and then had to go through the therapy and all that stuff,” said the Chandler native. “Now it’s probably stronger than my right hand.”
Then it was time to campaign to the NCAA to retain another year of eligibility. Those were anxious times, Gray said.
“I was getting kind of nervous about it towards the end of the year,” said Gray, who logged 166 tackles, plus 15 1/2 for loss during his first three seasons for the RiverHawks.
“I just didn’t know how anything worked, so it was kind of people telling me stuff and me having to play it by ear.”
Sure enough, he was granted a medical redshirt. So now the leadership duties will be bestowed upon Gray among the linebacking group in 2014.
“I feel like with my experience, I can teach those guys a lot,” Gray said. “...Hopefully we can get everybody on the same page and we can all push each other. I will accept that role, for sure.”