Norman is starting to feel like home for Eric Gray.
After transferring to Oklahoma from Tennessee on Jan. 27, the 5-foot-10 running back officially arrived on OU’s campus in February. Since then, he’s acclimated himself with Norman’s streets and restaurants. Because of that, Gray feels he’s settling in, but to more than just his new city.
Gray enters a position group featuring Kennedy Brooks, Seth McGowan, Marcus Major and former H-back Mikey Henderson. Just as he’s studied Norman, Gray’s spent the last few months learning the Sooners’ offense and how he can factor into it, and he’s made quite the impression.
OU’s career touchdown leader and second-year running backs coach DeMarco Murray, who spent seven seasons in the NFL, said Gray looks like a true professional on and off the field.
“The first word that comes to mind about Eric Gray is a pro,” Murray said on Wednesday. “He's a guy that shows up early, stays late, extremely smart. The transition for him offensively, scheme-wise, has been very, honestly, easy for him. And our offense is extremely complicated. I’m still obviously learning every day.
“He's a heck of a player, great person (and) great young man. So, we're fortunate to have him here.”
Gray’s best performance at Tennessee came in the Volunteers’ regular season finale in 2019, where he had 246 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 25 attempts against Vanderbilt. He rushed for 772 yards and four touchdowns with the Volunteers in 2020.
As soon as he made the decision to transfer, Gray said Oklahoma was his first choice. He was drawn by its track record of offensive success, along with the opportunity to play under Murray and head coach Lincoln Riley.
“I'm learning to be patient in his offense,” Gray said. “In the SEC, everything moves so fast… so (I’m) just learning to slow down. You don't have to hit the hole so fast, you can be patient, set up your blocks. Different things like that have been the things I’ve worked on since I've been here.”
The Memphis, Tennessee, native was also one of three former Volunteers to transfer to OU this offseason, joining offensive lineman Wanya Morris and defensive back Keyshawn Lawrence. Gray said the trio’s decisions were all coincidental, and the three didn’t even discuss it beforehand.
Even so, Gray’s transition to OU has been made easier because of Morris and Lawrence, he said. That smooth adjustment has allowed Gray to focus more on his role in the Sooners’ offense, and specifically Murray’s teachings.
“He’s been to the highest level,” Gray said of Murray, who spent four years playing at OU before his NFL career. “He succeeded well at it, so learning from him you just learn what it takes to succeed and what it takes to be good at it. He teaches you how to get those touchdowns, how to get those extra yards just to be ultimately the best player you can be.”
As the Sooners’ running back room looks to replace Rhamondre Stevenson, who declared for the NFL Draft after rushing for 665 rushing yards and seven touchdowns in six games last season, Gray believes his talents will keep the group’s production high.
“I am a third down back that can do it all,” Gray said. “I can get the hard yards on third and one, but I can also take it to the house and make someone miss... I've learned the ropes through my past seasons of just being able to train myself. … You’ve always got something to get better at.”