Tracking the Stars of the Future

Football Recruiting Report
Thursday, January 30, 2014

By Sammy Batten

Baseball gods send ECU a wide receiver

Malik Gray's journey from diamond to gridiron now heads to Greenville

By Sammy Batten
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Malik Gray never entertained the idea of playing football before he reached the junior high level. Gray was a baseball player, a lightning quick shortstop-third baseman who did a little pitching on the side.

It was the arm Gray developed playing baseball that eventually led him to the football field where his talents became good enough to earn a scholarship offer from East Carolina earlier this month. He decided to accept and became the 21st member of the Pirates' recruiting Class of 2014 on January 25.

Gray spent most of his senior season at Chapman High School in Inman, SC., playing quarterback, although he's been recruited as a wide receiver by ECU. The 6-foot-2, 190-pounder completed 108 passes for 1,876 yards and 18 touchdowns, while also rushing 158 times for 667 more yards and four scores for a 10-4 Chapman squad.

"We were really blessed to have him,'' said Chapman's Mark Hodge, who coached Gray the last two seasons.

Hodge can thank the baseball gods for their generosity.

"I'd always played baseball when I was younger, so I had a strong arm,'' Gray said. "I was able to throw the ball and I've always been fast.

"But in junior high we started going outside at lunch, and we'd always be throwing the football. I started throwing and running around with the football, and started to like it. It all just came together like that. I joined the junior high team that season and started out at quarterback. I moved to receiver later in the season. I really didn't know what I was doing, but I was good at it.''

Gray would go on to spend a season on the junior varsity squad at Chapman before earning a starting spot on the varsity as a wide receiver during his sophomore year. He was set to continue his career as a wide out before Hodge arrived in February 2012 from Carolina High School in Greenville, SC.

Because of Gray's arm strength, Hodge had him compete during the preseason at quarterback with Ben Ziegler. Ziegler, who now plays at Limestone College, eventually won the starting job while Gray returned to receiver where he teamed as a junior and senior with South Carolina commitment Deebo Samuel.

"We knew when we got here he had a chance to be a special player,'' Hodge said. "He was very athletic and rangy. He was the first kid we noticed from an athletic standpoint.

"He can flat out throw the football. There aren't many throws on the field he can't make. He can throw it 65 or 70 yards. But the other kid (Ziegler) ended up being our quarterback that first year and Malik played receiver. Then, our plans for him this season was to play him at both quarterback and receiver. But he actually ended up playing more quarterback than wide receiver.''

Hodge noted that a play made by Gray in late October led to Chapman winning five of its last six games. The play proved pivotal in a 16-15 victory against Union and beyond.

"It was getting later in the season and we had a bad stretch of injuries,'' Hodge said. "We had to win our last two (regular-season) games to make the playoff. We were playing Union, and had not performed well on offense in the first half.

"Well, in the second half Malik takes off on a quarterback trap, runs through their defense 60 yards for a touchdown. That pretty much set the tone for the second half and catapulted us over the top right there for the next six games.''

Those kind of performances are what motivated the interest of ECU recruiting coordinator and outside receivers coach Donnie Kirkpatrick. Kirkpatrick is a regular figure on the recruiting trail in South Carolina and had established a previous relationship with Hodge at Carolina High.

Kirkpatrick had been aware of Gray's talents, but wanted to see how he developed over the course of his senior season.

"I think they wanted to see how Malik evolved,'' Hodge said. "We felt going into the season he had the opportunity to emerge as a Division I player, but they wanted to see it on a consistent basis. Through the season he did well, and he did well on his test scores and in his classes.''

Gray quickly began to educate himself about the Pirates when he learned of Kirkpatrick's interest.

"I didn't know that much about them in the beginning,'' he said. "But Coach (Kirkpatrick) kept calling and staying in contact with me. I started to realize 'these guys want me to take them seriously.'

"They invited me up for a visit and they offered.''

Gray took an official visit to ECU on January 17 and received a scholarship offer while on campus. He returned home to talk over the situation with Hodge and his family before deciding to play for the Pirates. Gray also had offers from Old Dominion and South Carolina State.

East Carolina has recruited Gray to play outside receiver, and Hodge believes he'll fit in quickly.

"He still got a lot of work in at receiver last season, so he's pretty versed at that position,'' Hodge said. "He's got big hands and long arms, and he's still growing. He really knows how to handle his body as far as positioning to contact. Combine that with the fact he's got pretty good top-end speed, and he can create some matchup nightmares for a defense.''

Gray is the third player committed to the ECU class who played quarterback in high school. Quay Johnson from Knightdale, NC, and Dre Massey from Mauldin, SC, are the other prep quarterbacks who'll make the transition to receiver with the Pirates.

But if ECU ever gets in a bind at quarterback, Hodge said it shouldn't hesitate to throw Gray behind center.

"He's one of those rare kids that's going in as a receiver, but if they needed an emergency quarterback he could do that too,'' Hodge said. "If we had gotten here four or five years ago and he'd actually gone through our program as a quarterback, he would have probably gotten some offers at that position, too. He basically learned our system with six months of preparation and that's pretty phenomenal.''

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02/06/2014 07:17 AM