Former Notre Dame running back Jonas Gray didn’t hear his name called in the 2012 NFL Draft, but he inked a free-agent deal with the Miami Dolphins Saturday with two selections remaining in the seventh round.
“I’m excited. I can’t believe it,” he told BlueandGold.com over the phone just minutes after talking to the Dolphins. “They’re investing a lot in me. They’re giving me an opportunity to get physically back in shape. They’re going to be patient with me. That’s what I needed was for a team to be patient. For a team that believes in me and one I had a lot of contact with throughout the entire process, it’s truly a blessing. I think everything is going to work out just fine.”
Gray said he had been in contact with Miami the most of any NFL team ever since the Scouting Combine.
"When I went to the Combine, me and the running backs coach (Jeff Nixon) talked and right away there was an ease," he said. "We could tell that we’d be able to work together and he could push me and I’d also push him. I’m just really excited. It’s a great organization and a great place to be. I’m going to do everything I can to put myself in a position where I’m back to 100 percent."
On Senior Day against Boston College on Nov. 21, and after 791 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2011, Gray went down with a torn ACL. Gray had surgery in early December but was still one of six Notre Dame players to be invited to the Combine on Feb. 22-28. He participated in interviews, underwent a physical evaluation and was able to perform in the bench press.
With a slight limp emerging late in his April 3 Irish Pro Day workout, Gray exploded off the line of scrimmage, was able to plant, cut hard and catch passes at full speed from former ND quarterback Jimmy Clausen. His agent and doctors advised the 5-foot-10, 230-pound Pontiac, Mich., native not to run the 40-hard dash, however, until he’s done with the rehabilitation process.
He said he feels better than he did at Pro Day, but that there is a ways to go before he's back to 100 percent. The Dolphins are willing to wait, and Gray believes it was better to land in Miami undrafted than being selected by a random team in the later rounds.
"Yes, yes. Not only would [being drafted by some random team] not be the right fit, it has something to do with [Miami] willing to be patient with me," he explained. "The fact that I have an ability to go to a team that’s going to be patient with me and give me an opportunity to get back to where I was before ... They kept telling me they had me rated so high and were shocked that I didn’t get drafted. They said it was divine order; it was all planned. I’m just happy to be a part of the Dolphins.
"It’s in the contract that they’re going to be patient with me. That was something that was huge for me, my family, my agent and my business manager to go to a team that would put it in writing."
Gray, who had a rocky relationship with Irish head coach Brian Kelly initially, said back in January that it took time to buy into the new coaching staff, but believes Kelly and Co. got the best out of him and that Notre Dame is headed in the right direction.
“He’s like the president; you may not agree with him all the time, but he’s our leader and you have to be behind him 100 percent,” Gray said back in January. “The time is now. Coach Kelly is going to right the ship. We don’t have all the talent in the world coming back next year, but we have a solid group. I know those guys are going to give it their all and Coach Kelly is going to make sure this thing is turned around.
“Sometimes with fans, the patience level isn’t always where it should be. I know a lot of people were talking about this year being the year, but I think next year will be the year. It’s always a year you don’t expect for a team to show what it’s really about. Coach Kelly is the guy for the job.”
With a penchant for telling jokes and playing video games, the amateur comedian was told by Kelly in fall camp last August that he needed to get serious as a senior.
“There were times my junior year when he and I clashed and I wasn’t agreeing with what he was doing,” Gray said. “But when you buy into it, it all works.
“He is very misunderstood as a person and as a coach. People see the way he acts sometimes on the sidelines. That’s just his competitive, fiery spirit. He just wants to win so bad. The best way I like to describe him sometimes is just an average guy who will make some mistakes, but he’s a phenomenal leader. The atmosphere in the program is just so much better than I can remember.”
Gray has had more than just the Irish coaching staff in his corner. Following a senior year that rewrote his legacy at Notre Dame, encouragement from fans came pouring in via social media.
"My family is so happy; everyone is excited," he said. "It’s just the beginning and there’s still a lot of work to be done."