Westlake senior Gonzie Gray thought he wanted to play football at the University of South Carolina when he and his parents opened their Waldorf home to Coach Lou Holtz on Jan. 6. By the time the coach left, Gray was thoroughly convinced.

Gray, a 5-foot-11, 170-pound speedster who has excelled at both running back and defensive back for the Wolverines, orally committed Friday to accept a full scholarship to play football for the Gamecocks next season.

"I was pretty sure of that decision before he came to visit, but that just was the last piece," Gray said. "I felt very comfortable with him. I'm just glad to get it over with. It's a load off my mind."

Gray, who had narrowed his choice to South Carolina and Pittsburgh in the past few weeks, said he chose South Carolina for several reasons. First and foremost, he said, is his familiarity with the area. Gray often visited South Carolina as a child because his extended family lives there. That knowledge also puts his mother, Gale Gray, at ease.

"I wanted Gonzie to go away to school so that he can fulfill himself and become his own person, but wherever he went, my main concern was that they'd still take care of him and help him with the adjustments of college life," Gale Gray said. "And I think Coach Holtz will do that. Also, I can't tell you how comforting it is to know that if he did need someone, we have family members who could get to him quickly until I could get down there. I'm really comfortable with it."

Gray's grade-point average is above 3.0, and he said he likes South Carolina's academic programs--he is considering majoring in business. He also thinks there is an opportunity for him to have an immediate impact on the football team.

"The opportunity for [Gray] to get into a program that is building may give him a better chance to get on the field," said Westlake Coach Dominic Zaccarelli. "The coaches pretty much guaranteed him an opportunity to earn a position on the offensive side of the ball."

South Carolina, which went 0-11 last season in Holtz's first year with the team, is one of the few schools that recruited Gray as a running back. Many schools, enticed by Gray's speed--he's the defending Maryland 3A champion in the 200-meter dash and was the state runner-up in the 100--wanted him to play defensive back.

Gray finished the 1999 season with 25 tackles and one interception and also carried the ball 74 times for 502 yards and four touchdowns in an offense that spread the carries among four backs.

"They pretty much assured me I wouldn't see the defensive side of the ball, and I liked hearing that," Gray said. "I would like to stay at running back or slot back. But once I get down there, I'll do whatever the coaches ask of me."

CAPTION: Gray, who gained nearly seven yards a carry for Westlake, said he was "very comfortable" with South Carolina Coach Lou Holtz.