Lake senior to take helm of Hornet offense
For the last three years, Lake’s Jalen Gray has watched Brady McGee be the man guiding the Hornets’ offense.
Now with McGee headed to East Central to play college baseball, Gray is now the man leading the Hornets.
Coach Tate Hanna thinks Gray is ready to take the reins.
“The main thing, we are going to play him at quarterback, mainly out of necessity,” Hanna said. “He has been a backup quarterback the last three years but was a starting wide receiver the last three years as well and was our best wide receiver. He will also start on defense at either cornerback or safety. I expect him to take over the leadership role on offense. He has had a good summer with 7-on-7 and he has made tremendous strides in throwing the football.”
Toward the latter half of last year, the Hornets became a run-based team. With a good stable of running backs, Hanna said he needs Gray to be a good game manager.
“The main thing is we need him to take over the offense and put us in good positions,” Hanna said. “He has to take control of things. We need him to make good decisions, especially in the run game. With what we run, counter, power or power read, he is always going to have a read option. He is still going to have the option to read the backside end or the three-tech. We are still going to put a lot on him reading those guys in the run game.”
But that doesn’t mean Gray isn’t a threat in passing game.
“We are also going to need him to make throws when it’s time to make them,” Hanna said. “We have some good receivers that we need to get the ball in their hands. I think he will be proficient enough to do that. We look for him to have a big year on offense. He has had two big years on both sides of the ball but we look for him to have a bigger year on offense this year.”
Gray returns as a starter on defense for the Hornets and will continue to play on the defensive side of the ball this year as well.
“He has always been out shutdown corner for us,” Hanna said. “Whoever the other team’s best player was, we would put Jalen on them. He is a long, rangy kid with long arms and has good speed. I expect him to flourish on on the defensive side of the football and be a big contributor on defense.”
Gray is a multi-sport starter as well, starting in centerfield for the Lake baseball team. He was also on the powerlifting team, winning his weight class in the Class 2A South State meet.
“He is really strong,” Hanna said. “He won the south half in power lifting and wound up scratching in a couple of lifts and should have been the strongest in the state in his class. He is very strong and has gotten a lot stronger in the last two months.”
Baseball coach Fred Hampton said he has seen Gray grow tremendously the last couple of years on the diamond.
“He works hard and has improved so much in the last year,” Hampton said. "He went from a base runner and just playing defense to hitting leadoff for us last year. He really controls the outfield and has stepped into a leadership role. He gained so much confidence and stole a lot of bases for us and controlled the outfield. He used to be a little shaky but he became a good outfielder.”
Hanna and Hampton both said they believe that Gray, who is 5-foot-11 and 150 pounds, has a future in football at the junior college level.
“Every juco has come and has talked to him and he hasn’t gotten an offer yet,” Hanna said. “I feel like he is going to get some offers. If he had went through spring at receiver, that’s the spot that they like him at. There are probably two or three that liked his size on the defensive side at corner. He looks a little stiff but he moves good and gets in and out of his breaks really quick and he will hit you. He will come downhill at the safety spot and this year. He will be a floater on the defensive side of the ball. We don’t know where he will play from week to week. But there is no doubt that he is going to get some offers before it’s over with.”
More than a player, Hanna and Hampton both said Gray is a hard worker both on and off the field.
“He’s great kid,” Hanna said. “He’s one of the kids that ever since I have been here. I have been around him for five years and he has played for me for four years. He has never been in trouble and plays multiple sports. His dad is very involved and they are going to make sure he acts right and is where he is supposed to be. Jalen is just a great kid and a kid that a bunch of our other kids look up to. We just expect him to be a big leader for us this year.”
Gray said he would like to play college football and get a degree. When he’s not playing sports, Gray said he like to ride horse and four wheelers. He said he also enjoys pond fishing for bass as well.