Coming into 2011, Jonas Gray was expected to be a solid backup option to underclassman starter Cierre Wood.
And now after eight games, the senior tailback holds more responsibilities than being just a second-stringer. His eight touchdowns and 7.9 yards-per-carry average have him rising up on some NFL scouts' boards.
There was never really a question about either his talent or potential. He came into South Bend as a 4-star recruit boasting a 4.4 40-yard dash and plenty of school records. The Detroit product held scholarship offers from almost every Big Ten program.
But instead, Gray chose Notre Dame. The plan may not have unfolded as it was supposed to in regards to Gray or his potential. His improvement over the past year alone, however, has made him a legitimate NFL prospect.
This offseason was an important one for the senior, to say the least. His improved work ethic along with some advice from Fighting Irish legend Jerome Bettis might have been the sparks needed to ignite Gray's improvement.
There's a lot to like about him: deceiving speed and improved vision, strength, timing, and leadership. His frame alone (5'10", 230 lbs.) will draw some attention.
It's no longer a question of "if" but a matter of "when" for Gray. No matter where he will go in next year's draft, Gray still has a few more games to play under Brian Kelly.
In yesterday's win over Navy, Kelly made it a point to show Notre Dame nation he can run the football. The Irish combined for a total of six—yes, six—rushing touchdowns against the Midshipmen.
The much-improved Gray has added to an already talented Irish backfield. Wood, also having a productive year, has found the end zone eight times.
This duo has become one of the better tailback combinations in all of college football. Notre Dame's rushing attack has opened up the passing game as well.
It may have taken some time, but Jonas Gray has become an NFL-ready running back. Enjoy him while you can, Irish fans. He will be missed next fall.