Catching Up With Torrian Gray
by Scott Veith
TSL Extra, Issue #8

In 1998, Torrian Gray was in the process of solidifying himself as a National Football League defensive back. Three years later, heís submitted to the idea that heíll never play another down of football.

Gray was a prominent force in the defensive backfield for the Minnesota Vikings. But a knee injury on a kickoff ended his career instantaneously.

"In my second season I played in the nickel package for the first 8 games, Gray said. "Thatís when I suffered my knee injury. I was covering a kick and just got hit the wrong way and my knee went out. So I spent the rest of that year rehabbing. Then I spent my whole third year rehabbing. Thatís when I realized I wouldnít make it back. Iíd just lost too much speed."

For a guy who once chased down Virginia's Tiki Barber from behind in the 1996 Tech/UVa game, the idea of losing speed was hard to swallow. But he resigned himself to the end of his football career.

In a matter of month, Gray managed to make the switch to coaching. He made a few phone calls, went on a few interviews and eventually found himself as a defensive backs coach for division 1-AA University of Maine.

This season, Gray enters his second year as a U. Maine staff member. He oversees the entire secondary, including cornerbacks, safeties and outside linebackers and also works with inside linebackers in passing situations.

Gray said heís fortunate to have come across such a good job without prior coaching experience.

"At first, I thought Iíd have to do a graduate assistantship," he said. "But they had a situation here (at Maine) where a guy had just left and I had played in the same defense at Tech. So that worked out well for me."

Last season, Gray was a little skeptical about joining the coaching ranks without giving his playing days one last shot. After a season-and-a-half of rehabbing his torn-up knee, Gray decided enough was enough and traded in the pads for a clipboard and whistle.

"I was a little disappointed because I worked my butt off to try to get back," Gray said. "But I got to live the life (of an NFL player) for a while, and Iíll never forget that. I definitely miss it. Iíd be a much richer man if I was still playing, but Iím doing what I love now, so Iím not complaining."

Gray thinks he made the right decision by getting into coaching. His excitement for the game is as strong as ever, and his eagerness for success is second to none.

I learned first hand about Grayís dedication to his job and doing whatís expected of him. I left a phone message for Gray at the U Maine football office at 8:30 p.m. on a Monday night. By 7:00 a.m. on Tuesday, both Gray and Maine Head Coach Jack Cosgrove had called me back and explained that they just missed my call. That means they were both at work before 7:00 a.m. the morning after working until almost 9 at night.

Gray is also savvy about the business of college football and knows the hours will be long for the rest of his career. But heís longing for the days when a Division I program sweeps him up.

"I havenít been in the business all that long," Gray said, "but Iíve been told that the higher up you go, the easier it gets in terms of responsibilities. We have fewer coaches than a D-I program, so everyone does a little more."

Gray said in total, that U. Maine has fewer than 10 coaches. That includes full-time staff, restricted earnings coaches, graduate assistants and volunteers. Some Division I programs have as many as 20.

He said going from a player to a coach was an easy transition, but some things came naturally to him. He still gets excited when his guys put on their game jerseys.

"Itís a little different now because Iím putting my trust in people that Iíve coached rather than in myself," he said." "But itís exciting to see these guys do the same things I used to do."

He even talks like a coach now. This past off -season, two U. Maine graduates signed free agent contracts with NFL teams. Gray takes pride in the fact that he helped them get to where they are.

"Itís exciting to see those guys with that kind of opportunity and to know that I had a chance to work with them," he said. Itíll be fun to watch them try and make the cut."

Gray said he still thinks about the days when he strapped on the maroon and orange in Blacksburg. He said, "The one thing I miss the most is Saturday afternoons, walking down the tunnel. Just the whole transition from what happens on Friday up until game time is something Iíll never forget."

And two years ago when Tech played in the national championship game, Gray felt like a proud daddy whose kid just brought home a good report card.

"It was awesome to see them actually with a chance to win it all. I was proud of the program, to see how far they had come," he said. "It was nice."

And he said he wishes his U. Maine team had a quarterback like Michael Vick.

"Special is the one way to describe (Vick)," Gray said. "I love to watch any talented athlete, but when you put together his strength and speed with an arm like that, youíve got something special."

And Gray does his best to keep up with whatís going on with the Hokies. He checks the websites of the Virginia papers every chance he gets.

But no matter how much he loves Tech, heís a Black Bear now. And heís got work to do.

"Iím excited about the group of guys I have coming back this season, he said. "Weíve got a good group thatís easy to work with. And we have a guy that will be a senior this season that Iíd like to think has a shot (at the NFL). Heís a 5í6" guy, but heís got the speed and quickness. I just hope he doesnít get overlooked because of his size."

Gray is happy in Maine, but if the Hokies called at the end of the season and needed a defensive backs coach, Gray would be on the next flight out of Portland.

"In a heartbeat," he said. "If the opportunity (to coach at Virginia Tech) came up, Iíd be there in a heartbeat."

Scott Veith is a producer for WBRE TV 28 in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania and a sports correspondent for TRIP Magazine of Charlotte, North Carolina.

 

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