“Charlston is thriving in our system right now under Coach Weber,” John Bunting said.
Compared to former assistant coach Hal Hunter, now with the San Diego Chargers, Weber is implementing “tough love” to his kids whereas Hunter took a more passive approach. It’s not always fun in practice, but Gray and the rest of the offensive line respect what the new coach brings to the family.
“All of the offensive linemen are going through transition with the new coach,” Bunting said. “There’s a tremendous amount of emphasis on physical toughness and on tons of different drills they’ve never experienced before. So they’re probably thrilled when those individual drills periods are over, and they get into the teamwork part of our practice.”
Little things mean a lot when discussing blocking technique. For Gray, the most noticeable difference this year is which direction to go on the snap of the ball.
“On a couple of our plays, Coach Hunter taught us to step backwards first,” Gray said. “Now, Coach Weber is taking a more dead approach like stepping forward, stepping in front with your power leg. Instead of zoning like we used to do, it’s more of a downhill scheme.
“When Coach Hunter was here, he would always tell me I needed to get my size and my speed up. I’ve been doing that, and now we’ve got Coach Weber, who’s coaching more concepts – like getting my zone steps right and my techniques right. It’s getting better.”
And if Weber represents the father figure, then new offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti must be his figurative boss. Gray said former coach Gary Tranquill would abandon the run quickly if it wasn’t working early in the game.
“Coach Cignetti is different, because we’re going to keep running it,” said Gray. “If we get one or two in the first, one or two in the second, one or two in the third; in the fourth quarter, it’s going to break out of the back door. We’re always going to keep going at it. With ‘Tranq,’ if it didn’t go good a couple of times, we would just go to the pass.”
For an offensive lineman, Gray experienced an unusual amount of success as a true freshman, earning freshman All-America honors. He was pressed into a significant role in the second game of the season, following an injury to Skip Seagraves. Gray played in all 12 games in 2004, including wins over Georgia Tech, N.C. State and No. 4 Miami.
“That experience was good because I had been going behind a couple of guys that are in the League, like Jeb Terry, Willie McNeil and Jason Brown,” Gray said. “They kind of led me the way for me.”
By his sophomore year, Gray had become a seasoned veteran known for his workhorse stamina. He saw action on 769 snaps for an average of 70 per game.
This year, he’s taking his experience and turning it on the newer players, which, just like he had to, are being called on to play a significant role early in their careers.
“The coaches tell me to keep stepping hard and going hard, because younger players behind me are watching me,” Gray said. “Everybody knows the left side is the strong side, so they’re going to be keying off the strong side. We’ve got to keep going, getting better, step in better time – New Blue – that’s our new saying.
“I just try to teach them there are going to be hard times and there are going to be good times. Through the hard times you’ve got to just keep fighting and keep pushing. That’s what’s going to make you better. Going-wise, you’ve got to take it from the practice to the field. It will really pay off on the field, and you’ll get good looks and people will look at you.”
Personally, Gray’s goal is to help spring a UNC tailback – maybe two – for 1,000-yards.
“We talk about it all the time,” Gray said. “That’s our first goal. We know if we get that 1,000-yard rusher, it will the put offensive linemen up higher on the plaques. People will look at us more. It’s been a long time since that happened, so we’ve got to just keep fighting and keep going to make that happen.
“It’s exciting,” he continued, “because I know Ronnie [McGill] has always got a good look at going to the house every time. Barrington [Edwards] comes in, he uses his speed on the outside and that’s real good.
“I like blocking for both of them.”
(J.B. Cissell contributed to this report.)