Gophers' Gray has kept his cool - and perspective

BY foxsports • November 18, 2011

The defensive pressure MarQueis Gray faced against Nebraska, Michigan State or Wisconsin was nothing compared to the latest challenge of his life.

Twin boys.

Minnesota's junior quarterback has had a new offense and plenty of techniques to grasp in his first season as a starter. Then last week, Gray welcomed two more additions to his daily routine: MarShawn and MarZell. His girlfriend, Alley Behr, gave birth to their sons the day before the Gophers played the Badgers.

But Gray suited up Saturday and gutted out a rough game with a bad back before returning to the hospital to be with his loved ones. He watched game film in the room while Behr recovered and the boys - born five weeks early - were cared for.

''If you're a boy and you have kids, then things are not going to work out,'' Gray said. ''So you've just got to grow up real fast and just make sure you handle your responsibility.''

After the Wisconsin game, coach Jerry Kill said he was worried about Gray's sore back - a shooting pain just above his hip stemming from a knee he took there the previous week against Michigan State. But the coach said he wasn't concerned about his quarterback's ability to juggle parenting with all the other responsibilities he has on his plate.

Gray's willingness to play through pain without complaining has solidified his reputation with his teammates as a guy they can rely on. Helping take care of two babies has only furthered their respect for him.

''It's quite a burden, but at the same time I'm sure it's something that he'll be able to figure out,'' running back Duane Bennett said. ''It's something that he'll learn on the fly. You can't teach a person to be a dad. You kind of just go through, with trial and error. He'll find a way to juggle the two, and he'll make time for his family as well as football as well as school. All three things are important. You can't go one without the others.''

Gray stays on campus while Behr - who works as marketing director - lives elsewhere in the city. They've been together for three years after meeting through mutual friend Deon Hightower, a former Gophers linebacker. Behr's job gives her flexible hours, and her mother helps with childcare in a ''major'' way. But Gray is an equally important part of this parenting equation.

''We really just make it work,'' Behr said. ''He comes straight home after practice and takes care of the boys. He's just really humble, which is what I love about him. He's a man. He's an amazing person.''

Gray has only completed 51.7 percent of his passes this year with seven touchdowns and seven interceptions, including a 6-for-14 performance against Wisconsin for just 51 yards. He struggled often earlier this season to deliver the ball on target, and the Gophers offense managed only 10 points over the first 10 quarters of Big Ten play.

But they began to click in the second half Oct. 22 against Nebraska, and Gray's best came the following two weeks against Iowa and Michigan State. He still has an opportunity to break Minnesota's record for single-season rushing by a quarterback if he can total 193 yards on the ground over the final two games.

Staying healthy has helped.

Gray suffered cramps in the opener at USC and dealt with a toe problem for a few weeks. Then came the back injury. For a guy who sat out the 2008 season due to a hang-up over his college entrance exams then played primarily at wide receiver the next two years, Gray has had a lot of learning to do this fall as a full-time quarterback for the first time in four years. All of those missed repetitions in practice and snaps in games have hindered his development.

He's also had to buck his personality a bit and stop, as Kill put it, being everybody's friend.

''He's a nice guy. He's not the type to be a jerk out there,'' center Ryan Wynn said. ''MarQueis has just been doing a great job by being vocal, just banding the offense together and being the leader we need.''

Behr said she is ''the crazy one'' in their relationship and that she's never seen Gray lose his temper - even when frustrated fans are sending him critical messages through Twitter.

''I've seen so many horrible things brought toward him when things are going wrong, but he's always positive,'' Behr said. ''He never lets anything bring him down.''

Gray said his back is ''way better'' than last week, expressing excitement and confidence about finishing the season strong. He acknowledged frustration over the injuries that set him back earlier in the year - and the week leading up to the Badgers game.

But, in response to Kill's urging that he become more assertive, Gray said he's more serious on the sideline and in practice. And becoming a dad has done nothing but solidify his growth into a more confident leader.

''I've just got to mature every day, as they get older,'' Gray said. ''I know that things are not going to be easy. They're going to get harder. I just need to be ready when that time comes.''


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