The scene repeated itself each week on football fields across northeast Ohio. Standing on the sideline during games, Chardon High School Coach Mitch Hewitt would listen to an official who had jogged over to express a concern.
“You have to settle that kid down,” they’d say, referring to Andrew Gray, the Hilltoppers’ 6-foot-4, 215-pound tight end after he bulldozed pass-rushers like tackling dummies.
“He has a nasty disposition,” Hewitt said Tuesday by telephone. “He’s got something that you cannot coach. It’s innately in someone, and it’s a nastiness.”
Now, understand that when Hewitt calls the newest Maryland commitment for its class of 2014 “nasty,” he doesn’t mean it negatively in the slightest. Gray is a quiet, unassuming kid off the field, hailing from blue-collar bloodlines and hardly prone to boasting despite his Division I status. Yet on the field, the Chardon offense ascribes to the theory that running breeds toughness, and no one’s tougher than Gray while blocking in the trenches.
“He’s that kind of kid,” said Hewitt, who played for Urban Meyer at Bowling Green. “I think Maryland got a steal. I think they got a great competitor.”
At a school most known for a former assistant football coach chasing a gunman from the building last February, who will be featured on the upcoming cover of Sports Illustrated, Gray has carved out his own legacy. The Hilltoppers run a pistol, wing-T hybrid offense that rarely throws more than 10 times per game. Gray has solid hands, Hewitt said, and would likely receive more passes if Chardon actually had someone to throw the ball. Its quarterback last season was all-Ohio, but he ran for 1,800 yards.
“Believe it, it’s not that we don’t want to throw the ball, we just do what we’re best at,” Hewitt said. “We know Andrew has ability. Is he going to be more available in our passing game? Sure. But is his first task to beat the snot out of people and set the tone on the perimeter? Absolutely.”
Gray recently became the fifth player to offer his oral commitment to Maryland, joining offensive lineman Jared Cohen, quarterback Will Ulmer, running back Johnathan Thomas and defensive lineman David Shaw. He picked the Terps over Louisville, Ball State, Bowling Green and others after visiting campus last weekend.
Tight end projects to be an open competition next year after current starter Dave Stinebaugh graduates, so Gray could take that mean streak and use it to earn playing time over returning players such as P.J. Gallo, Brian McMahon and incoming freshman Andrew Isaacs.
“It puts us in a difficult position,” Hewitt said of Gray. “A kid has to play a controlled game, but at the same time there’s not a coach in America who doesn’t like a nasty player. I don’t mean nasty as in dirty. I mean a kid who wants to finish a block, put someone on their back. Everyone develops over time, but I think there’s something innate about it. Andrew’s character trait is that he plays really, really hard.”