THE POST-SIGNAL / Tom Brown
Notre Dame coach Todd Gray (left) and son Boyd Gray chat following practice earlier in the week.
ND family preparing for another playoff run
With Notre Dame drawing a playoff bye as the No. 3 seed in the Division III bracket, there is no football game for the Pios this week.
The Notre Dame family will continue to move on as it always has, because being a Pio is a family affair.
Like many coaches across all sports, having a child play for your team is an added reward. Notre Dame defensive coordinator James McCleary has coached four sons through the Pios. Defensive coach Chris Stephens is enjoying his second son with the team as a junior this season. And of course, Head Coach Lewis Cook has been there three times and understands the balancing act quite well.
“I wouldn’t change having coached all three of my sons for anything,” said Cook. “I was enjoying college football when Lew got to ninth grade. We had Jake Delhomme and Brandon Stokely at UL breaking records, but none of that outweighed being with my boys. It was a bit of a sacrifice, but I enjoyed high school ball and it was all worth it.
“As a dad, you tend to always want to pull your kids out first because you get worried about what everybody thinks. No matter how fair you are, there is always someone that will be critical. I asked a lot of coaches for advice on that and what I was told is to hope your son is either terrible or really good. Then you are off the hook. We have always followed the pattern of who deserves to play more and who gives us the best chance to win.”
Boyd Gray is a coach’s son. Every offensive snap for Notre Dame starts with Gray, a three-year player and two-year starter at center.
Boyd has been on the bus ride of his life at Notre Dame. His dad, Todd Gray, is the Pios offensive line coach. The coach’s son has come a long way from his days as a ball boy to his leadership role with the offensive front under his dad’s direction.
“After 23 years of coaching the offensive line, I would hope he is doing a pretty good job,” Boyd said with a laugh. “With the offensive lines we have had and the success we have enjoyed as a team, that kind of speaks volumes for him.”
Todd Gray and his wife Allison are no strangers to athletic success. They met at Neosho junior college in Kansas where Todd played baseball and Allison played basketball. Todd went on the finish his playing days at East Central Oklahoma. Allison accepted a basketball offer to Columbia. Yes, the Ivy League Columbia. Two knee injuries would end her playing career and she transferred to Oklahoma. I think we know why! The rest is Gray history.
“This is my 24th year at Notre Dame and I have four daughters I am very proud of, but I had always looked forward to coaching a son,” Todd Gray noted after practice this week. “I could see in junior high Boyd was going to be a lineman, so I knew I was going to be able to coach him and it has been a special time. He has handled it well. Through any of the corrective coaching criticism, he has not batted an eye and he does not wear it on his sleeve. It goes in one ear and out the other and he corrects it so we can move on.”
One would think Boyd was pretty much always going to be a lineman, but it really just kind of worked out that way. The offensive line does not get the headlines, but there is no doubt where the grunt work is put in and what the value is to the team.
“I started out as a lineman in elementary and middle school and just stayed there,” added Boyd Gray. “Our offensive system starts up front. If we do not get our technique and blocks down, we do not have a good season. A lot of what Coach Cook does with our offense is with what we call G and Stretch. There is a lot up the middle and off the edge with lineman pulling to lead the blocking. We have to do our job to make it work.”
Boyd Gray is one of 10 Pios that will be recognized at the Superdome Classic for their work in the classroom. Gray has earned Academic All-State Honors along with offensive line teammates George Herbert, William Vice and Hunter Hoffpauir who are also Academic All State selections.
“That recognition comes from a lot of study time. You have to put the work in to achieve what you go after. I have friends that don’t try to balance the books and the sport, but it has always been important for me to pay attention to my schoolwork. I have my family to keep me motivated even though I am still uncertain about my future.”
That smart aspect has carried over to the field and helped make the Pios offensive line a better unit. With four new starters around veteran Gray, the offense has been as good as ever.
“We are already studying film for our opponent, so the time you put in studying for your classes gives us the discipline to put in the work from week to week for games. Our offense benefits by us having a better understanding of what is going on with what we are trying to do on the field.
“And it has really paid off this year. Parker (Seilhan) runs the veer well and he can keep it for big yards. Our wide receivers can go get the ball and run with it after the catch. Dom (Thibodeaux) is a tough runner, and he can split out. We have a lot of options.”
Some of which can even be a mystery to the coaching staff.
“We are on the sideline and we see everyone on the offensive line turning their heads to each other and pointing at the defense,” adds coach Gray. “We are trying to figure out what they are doing, and they are coaching each other, recognizing the defense, and checking their assignment at the line. You can’t help but smile.”
As his senior year winds down, Gray has made it through his four years without any serious confrontations with his position coach.
“Dad made a point of never taking it home with him. We may talk football in general as fans watching a college or pro game, but he always kept a line between the field and home. He will get on us at practice or in a game as our coach. But I think everyone on the line knows how to communicate with him and each other. We all realize it is to try and make us better.”
Todd has learned to draw that line after two and a half hours of practicing on the field and film sessions at school by deciding that is enough. Gray hands the ball off to his teammate at home.
“His momma is so hard on him that I don’t have to take care of that at home,” Todd added laughing and probably knowing he will be in trouble with momma when she sees that in print. “Seriously, though, Allison knows what it takes to compete and be at that level in sports and in life. She is an engineer in a man’s world, going offshore to solve a problem when needed. Allison was at the state volleyball tournament with our daughter Ali and got called to meet a crew boat and go to a rig in Lake Pontchartrain. She has to be tough and strong minded, but at home she is great with our family.”
Getting through eight games this season was a serious doubt for Boyd Gray and his teammates during the summer. From a team that was just hoping to have a season to a team that now hopes to make a run to the Superdome, Boyd is enjoying his final days with the Notre Dame football team and the one thing he will miss most of all when it is over.
“The bus ride on the way back from a game. On the way you are focused on the game and serious about what is ahead. Coming home, you can relax and enjoy yourself with teammates knowing it was all worth it.”
Spoken like a true team Gray player. In much the same as life in general, Boyd Gray has focused hard work on the important things that will take him to the rewards and good times that follow.