Logan • Utah State cornerback Daniel Gray doesn’t hide the fact he didn’t like redshirting last season.
“It sucked,” he said. “You’re sitting there watching your friends do stuff you can’t do and if they lose, you have to sit there because you can’t do anything about it.”
Well, Gray is ready to bust out of that so-called redshirt on turf with which he is extremely familiar.
Gray played eight games at Tennessee as a true freshman before transferring to Utah State last season where he joined his former high school teammates Travis Reynolds and JoJo Natson.
He was also friends with former Aggie standout Nevin Lawson, who Gray considers one of his mentors.
Now eligible to play, Gray isn’t expected to do much sitting in the future as the 5-foot-11, 170-pound sophomore is regarded as one of the Aggies’ rising stars.
One of the fastest players on the team, Gray was ranked as the 105th best defensive back in the nation by ESPN as a high school senior.
He is eager to prove that he has improved rather than regressed after a year away from football. Doing so in Neyland Stadium is about as good as it could get for the Fort Lauderdale, Fla., native.
“We’ve been working hard this summer and I want to showcase that hard work,” he said. “Coming up here, Nevin got me in the weight room and showed me the important stuff I needed to know to get to the next level.”
Gray and the rest of Utah State’s defensive backs will need to play at a high level for the Aggies to beat the Vols. Tennessee traditionally has a good receiving corps, and this season is no different. Marquez North (6-4, 221), Von Pearson (6-3, 183), Pig Howard (5-8, 187) and Josh Malone (6-3, 204) are all talented enough players that USU coach Matt Wells said he believes the Vols’ NFL pipeline would continue with this group. He noted the program has had 11 first-round draft picks at the receiving position in the last 40 years.
“Tennessee is known as Wide Receiver University and I don’t think I’d argue that,” he said.
That said, Wells has liked how the Aggie secondary has developed in camp, particularly with freshman Jalen Davis and sophomore Devin Centers earning larger roles to supplement returning starter Brian Suite and senior Rashard Stewart.
Wells acknowledged that this opener will be a special one for Gray but cautioned he needed to keep himself in check too.
“I’m sure there will be mixed emotions for him going in,” he said. “He needs to be able to control those and play each snap and move on and have success. He better have a short mentality at cornerback in any game.”
Gray doesn’t seem to be too worried. More than anything, he said he’ll just be happy to get back on the field, any field.
“I feel like I can surprise a lot of people,” he said. “I’ve worked hard over the summer and I’m ready to show it.”
Utah State at Tennessee
O Sunday, 5:06 p.m. (MT)
Daniel Gray file
• 5-foot-11, 170 pounds, sophomore
From • Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.
Of note • Redshirted the 2013 season after transferring from Tennessee…Played in eight games in 2012 at Tennessee and finished with six tackles…Ran 4.32 in the 40-yard dash at the 2012 Under Armour All-American camp…Also competed in track and field in high school…Majoring in sociology.