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Notre Dame Football

Gray Making the Leap to Become Notre Dame's Next Great CB

April 5, 2024

Notre Dame has had plenty of great cornerbacks over the years, but we don’t often hear about the next great one because there tends to be a time gap between them.

It’s not like tight end or offensive line. People don’t call Notre Dame DBU.

It’s probably premature to suggest that will change based on the strength of the current state of the secondary, but there’s no denying that the Irish have a strong group of safeties and cornerbacks even after losing Cam Hart. They have a great cornerback returning in Benjamin Morrison and have more talent ready to step up in Hart’s absence.

At the top of the list ready to step up is sophomore Christian Gray. He impressed everyone last season as a true freshman despite not havine a clear path to playing time. Notre Dame had a multi-year starter returning in Hart, an elite boundary corner in Morrison, an experienced veteran in Clarence Lewis, and Jaden Mickey who played 247 snaps as a freshman. Normally that kind of depth chart would lead to a freshman taking a redshirt.

Gray proved too talented to not earn playing time, though. He had a fantastic debut season and finished with PFF’s second best coverage grade out of freshman cornerbacks from Power 5 programs. He’s had a strong spring so far and has taken advantage of his opportunities.

“It’s kind of like my first [spring] practice, because I got hurt last time (meaning last year),” Gray said. “It’s been pretty great, pretty fun. A lot of learning lessons, a lot of great moments with my team, my brothers and with the wideouts. I can say this spring is going really great.”

One noticeable difference in his game is strength. Gray put an emphasis on improving his upper body strength this offseason and it shows. During a one on one tackling drill on Wednesday, the first big pop of the day came when Gray made contact on an early rep.

New receivers coach Mike Brown is getting his first look at Gray this spring and has been impressed.

"He's physical. He's competitive. He's physical, competitive and he doesn't back down,” Brown stated. ”Plays really hard. We're gonna make each other better. He's gonna challenge and make us better. So we know that iron strikes sharpens iron and this is gonna be huge for us, but I think he's got a very, very bright future."

One player he’s had frequent battles with this spring is Jayden Thomas. With Morrison recovering from shoulder surgery, Thomas and Gray have matched up often on the boundary with Thomas noting how Gray’s length and strength have really helped Gray play the position.

“You wouldn't really see it just by looking at him, but he definitely has some weight behind his pads,” Thomas divulged. “He's quick, too. He's really fast, so I feel like a lot of people don't know, but he's very physical in the boundary. He can tackle and cover.”

It’s evident that Gray has all of the traits to step into that boundary spot when Morrison is likely playing on Sundays in 2025. It almost feels like he was born to play there with his size and physicality. He’s had the latter pretty much all of his life and it’s why he earned the nickname “The Franchise” from his godmother Mesho Morrow, a former basketball player at the Kansas University.

“I’ve been calling myself The Franchise since I was like 2, 3,” Gray explained. “My godmother, Mesho Morrow, was a player at Kansas playing basketball. When I was born, I had so much energy. I just ran around the field and everything. I was tackling folks out of nowhere. Even tackling grown people and grabbing them by the leg.

“She was like, ‘I’m going to call you The Franchise.’ I was like, ‘What does that mean?’ She was basically like, ‘You’re just a special kind of kid. You can do anything.’ I appreciate that.”

While he’s still teammates with Morrison, Gray is competing with Jaden Mickey to replace Hart. It’s not a contentious competition, though. They are pushing each other and always in the film room with their coach, Mike Mickens.

“He's getting stronger. He's working hard with that,” Mickens said about Gray. “You can tell the game is slowing down for him now. So, now it's just going out there to play fast, make plays, do what he's naturally gifted to do.”

There’s no question that Gray is gifted with size and athleticism. He’s still developing those gifts and he’s been focusing on his mind just as much. That’s something he’s admitted to not being consistent enough with in the past. He’s trying to establish a dominant mentality on every snap because he knows that can help him reach a higher level.

“Mostly, I just want to accomplish my dominant mindset. I used to have trouble with having a dominant mindset. Like ‘I’m going to dominate this person. I’m going to dominate this person.’ I used to have trouble with that. I’m using it right now.

“I have to be more consistent with it instead of just doing it in this moment and this moment. No, be consistent every time, because that’s going to make me a great player. Everyone keeps telling me, ‘You got everything.’ But I don’t have that mindset, not consistently on a daily basis, but I need it every time.”

Gray certainly appears to be on the path to greatness. He might be Notre Dame’s next great cornerback and it could happen for him while the current one is still his teammate.

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