Land of 10 has embarked on a series of Next Generation articles, a project that aims to bring our readers greater insight into the Class of 2018 signees. Land of 10 Michigan reporters Rachel Lenzi and Kevin Goheen will introduce the Michigan fan base to the newest Wolverines. In this edition, we feature cornerback Vincent Gray.
ROCHESTER HILLS, Mich. — Football was merely a childhood hobby for Vincent Gray. His first love was basketball.
But when he was 10 years old, one person saw something in him as a football player at a youth camp in Ann Arbor, Mich.
“I’m sitting with the dads, and sometimes, I was the only mom who sat with the dads,” said Dante Gray, Vincent’s mother. “But I see a coach walking towards me with Vincent’s arm in his hand, and I thought, ‘What did Vincent do?’
“Fred Jackson was Michigan’s running backs coach at the time, and he introduced himself to me. Again, I thought, ‘What did my son do?’”
Vincent Gray already had impressed Jackson, who made a declaration to Dante and the group of fathers around her.
“This is the most athletic 10-year-old I’ve ever met in my life,” Dante recalled Jackson saying. “And he’s going to play at Michigan!”
Dante said she beamed with pride, and Vincent offered a smile to the parents in front of him. Still, he didn’t become serious about playing football until he was almost 15.
The 3-star signee from Rochester Hills will join the Wolverines’ 19-player freshman class when he enrolls in school later this month. Gray signed with Michigan in February, but he followed a path his mother set for him. She found an environment where her son could thrive, with supportive coaches and teammates that helped Vincent be successful in high school.
Becoming a college football player was Vincent’s choice.
“My sophomore year, I started going to [college] camps and coaches liked what they saw in me — that’s when I started to take football seriously,” said Vincent, a 6-foot-2, 180-pound cornerback. “I didn’t take it seriously at first. But after my junior year, that’s when I stopped playing basketball to play football. I applied myself and I saw the constant improvements I was making. And I realized I was in love with the grind of football.”
A big move
When Vincent was in the fourth grade, Dante relocated her son and her daughter, Jasmine, from Detroit to the city’s northeast suburbs.
Dante, a manager of quality with Aetna, had just divorced her husband. She said she wanted a complete change for her children. She wanted to find a sense of community and support in Rochester Hills.
“Dante made the decision early that the academic environment at Adams High School was a fit for Vincent, and it was good for her, too,” said Anthony Patritto, who has coached football at Adams since 2003. “She wanted her son to be in a competitive academic environment. She knew here, that how you play and how you act off the field is as important as what you do on the field.”
Dante set a goal for her son, to be successful as a student and in the community.
She signed up Vincent for pee-wee football, but she didn’t see many players or parents who were minorities. She became nervous. Then she met Patritto, and her son immediately connected with the man who would become his high school football coach.
Dante saw how the Patrittos, an Italian-American family with five children, opened their home to Gray, no questions asked. She watched how Patritto engaged with her son. Sometimes he went over football plays. Other times he helped with science or math homework.
She also saw how he welcomed friends, relatives and children he coached into his house, and took care of the children with his wife, Shawn, who is a nurse.
The example Patritto set put Dante at ease.
“He was in the thick of it,” Dante said of Patritto. “He showed people what the role of a father is, as a provider and a nurturer, and I haven’t seen it done to the level that he does it. And that made an impression on me and on Vincent.”
Hitting the road
Dante was Vincent’s caretaker, guardian, life coach and chauffeur. Almost every day, she drove 28 miles from her job in downtown Detroit to Rochester Hills to pick up her son to go to football and basketball games, practices or tournaments.
Some days, those practices were in or near Rochester Hills. Other days, she turned around with her son and his teammates in tow and returned to Detroit, where they would stay in gymnasiums or at football fields until 10 at night.
“Until he learned how to drive, we had to go somewhere,” Dante said. “I took my laptop with me, and I’d sit and work while he practiced. Sometimes I’d sit in someone’s office and I’d finish my work as he would train or play basketball. It reached a point where it was a reflex.”
Vincent remembers his mother driving a Chevrolet Impala for years, until she traded it in for a Chevy Tahoe two years ago.
Dante is 5-4. People asked her why she drove such a big SUV, and she explained that it was to shuttle around her son’s basketball team. Other parents carpooled to games and tournaments, but Dante’s Tahoe was one of the most popular cars for transport because of its high-tech amenities and the space it provided.
“Everyone fought to ride with me,” Dante said. “There were so many ports for the chargers, there was a great sound system, and Vincent and his friends, they could stretch out. Everybody would be cramped in rental cars, but there was room in mine.”
But on one of those trips, as he sat in the backseat of the SUV, Vincent realized when he was an eighth-grader how much his mother had sacrificed for him.
“Her whole day revolved around me,” Vincent said. “She had to go to work and she did it every day with a smile on her face. She’s a very supportive person who has always been here for me.”
From Rochester Hills to Ann Arbor
Vincent Gray had 26 tackles and an interception in 11 games at cornerback in the 2017 season at Rochester Adams. He also caught 19 passes for 394 yards and 5 touchdowns at wide receiver.
He committed to Missouri in July 2017 but said he felt rushed in his commitment. He reopened his recruitment in December after Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh contacted him.
“I didn’t think much about previously being an Ohio State fan, but when I signed with Michigan, I knew that’s where I wanted to be,” Vincent said. “I was comfortable there.”
He said he considered the number of players Michigan has sent to the NFL, and the program’s environment, which fosters professionalism among its players, whether they go to the NFL or go into the workforce.
He also took to heart the values his mother had instilled in him. Dante taught him to respect and cherish the opportunities he had, whether it was to play college football, to travel with an AAU basketball team or to be a part of a high school football showcase.
“She always tells me, ‘Know that you’re blessed,’” Vincent said. “Not many people get to do what I’m doing.”
Vincent Gray breakdown
|247Sports composite rank||No. 18 in Michigan, No. 63 cornerback nationally|
|Star rating||3 stars|
|Commitment date||Jan. 21, 2018|