MarQueis Gray didn’t take many hits during spring football practice, but when the 2011 season comes around, he said he won’t avoid contact.
“If it’s me and that guy on the goal line, I’m going to run through him,” the Gophers’ projected starting quarterback said. “I’m not going to try to shake him or anything. I’m just going to try to get the first down or touchdown.”
Confident words from the player Minnesota can least afford to lose to an injury next season. Barring an incredible fall camp from incoming freshman Max Shortell, Gray will be the starting quarterback next season and become the face of head coach Jerry Kill’s program.
“I’m pleasantly surprised,” Kill said of Gray’s progress. “He still has a long way to go to learn but he’s done a really nice job and that’s going to be important to us.”
Kill wouldn’t fully endorse Gray as the 2011 starter, though.
“He’s certainly the guy going into fall camp,” he said. “I don’t make any brash statements until we get out to two-a-day camp.”
Gray had his ups and downs Saturday. He had a beautiful 20-yard run on the second play of the scrimmage as well as some nice scrambles that were blown dead as soon as a defensive player touched him.
His throwing, though, left more to be desired. He had just one completion of 10-plus yards and finished 11-for-18 for 67 yards.
Gray’s timing will improve once he has more time to work with receivers — Da’Jon McKnight, Victor Keise, A.J. Barker, Brandon Green and tight end Eric Lair all missed Saturday’s game. For now, he’s thrilled about the possibility of finally starting under center.
“It’s a long time coming,” he said. “I’m just happy that it’s finally here, and I look forward to taking over the starting quarterback job and leading this team this year.”
Unlike Kill, Gray didn’t shy away from expectations. He thinks the team will be better than last season even if it there weren’t many signs of that notion Saturday.
“I know we should be better than 3-9,” Gray said. “We’ve got guys who bought into this program, who believe in coach Kill, who believe he’s going to turn this program around for us.”
Turning the program around has to start with Gray. The pressure always mounts on Big Ten quarterbacks, but he’s sure starting at wide receiver last season helped prepare him for the many demands of a high-profile college football player.
And after playing with the first-team offense for all of spring practice, he thinks he will be ready to lead the team come September.
“I’m a lot more confident in myself and my ability to lead this offense,” Gray said.