Derwin Gray, right, is one of the top recruits in the class of 2013. (Toni L. Sandys/WASHINGTON POST)

Gray missed all but one game of his junior season because he was academically ineligible. Without him, t he Crimson Tide defeated Coolidge, 33-21, for its 10th D.C. Interscholastic Athletic Association football title.

“That was tough, real tough,” he said. “It was kinda odd and kinda frustrating watching them play in the Turkey Bowl and me not being there. It really hurt me not to play with them. I was mad.”

But Gray, massive 6-foot-5, 260-pound offensive lineman and defensive end, said he has since focused on his grades, improving them to the point that he would be eligible now to play in a sport.

Before his junior season, Gray already had offers from Auburn, Clemson, Michigan State, New Mexico, North Carolina, Rutgers, Syracuse and West Virginia.

Even without the necessary grades to play, schools haven’t shied away from him. Tennessee offered during the season. Maryland offered in October. (Gray has already taken unofficial visits to Maryland and Rutgers and is planning others for spring break.)

And recently he said he added two big offers: Nebraska (two weeks ago) and Ohio State (last week). He said he even spoke with new Ohio State Coach Urban Meyer.

College coaches have encouraged Gray to continue the improvement of his grades, he said.

“They just told me that I need to know about the grades and keep working hard and working hard, and telling me about things they can do to help me,” Gray said. “They keep me motivated and tell me that I have a chance. ‘Don't let up now.’ They keep encouraging me. I don't have no choice if I want to play football at the next level.”