It won’t come as much of a surprise if A.J. Gray emerges as one of the leaders of the Georgia Tech defense this season.
The sophomore from Washington County played in 10 games last year as a true freshman. Even though he wasn’t able to break into the starting lineup ahead of a group of experienced players in the secondary, he played well enough to get on the radar and establish some pretty high expectations.
“I think he’s got the opportunity to be one of the all-time great players at Georgia Tech,” head coach Paul Johnson said.
Gray was one of the stars early during preseason practice. Hardly a day went by without him knocking away a pass or making an impressive pick. He’s certainly headed in the right direction.
Gray has never been one to back away from setting the bar high. It runs in the family. His older sister, Alisha, was the 2012 Gatorade Player of the Year in basketball and signed with North Carolina before transferring to South Carolina. A.J. was a Parade All-American and the Georgia All-Classification Player of the Year and led the Golden Hawks to back-to-back appearances in the state championship game.
Gray, a 6-foot-1, 215-pound safety, was noticed early by defensive coordinator Ted Roof because of his willingness and ability to make a tackle. Gray was not afraid to stick his nose in the play.
He played in the opener against Alcorn State and had four tackles and recovered a fumble. He had his first interception against Duke and had a career-high five tackles against Clemson.
By the time spring practice arrived, Gray was once again healthy. He worked hard, elevated his game and was noticed by the coaching staff for his progress.
“A.J. Gray probably had as good a spring as anybody on our football team,” Johnson said. “He was surviving last year on pure athleticism out there because he wasn’t sure what he was doing as a true freshman playing safety.
“He had a tremendous spring. I think you’ll be excited to watch him play this fall.”
Gray is expected to anchor a rather young secondary at free safety. Junior Corey Griffin will likely line up at strong safety, with Step Durham and Lance Austin (both juniors) at cornerback. Junior Lawrence Austin returns to start at the nickel back, where he got a lot of playing time last year.
“There are some guys who have played and some guys with some athletic ability,” Johnson said. “We’ll see how it sorts itself out back there.”