Photo given to me by Antione Gray.
Antione Gray is a class of 2023 safety out of King’s Fork High School in Suffolk, Virginia. Standing at 5’10” and weighing 180 pounds with a 3.2 GPA, the senior has a 4.7 40-yard dash time to go along with a 250 bench and a 450 squat. Gray strives to be the hard-hitting safety of the team, with a tackle similar to that of a hammer striking a nail. Earlier this week, I had the fortunate opportunity to speak with Gray.
Q: Why do you play the game?
“I play the game for my mom. She made me play football, she inspired me to play. All she would talk about was football, all day every day. One day she told me to ride with her, and she dropped me off and told me to have fun. Ever since then I’ve been playing football. She passed away and that made me not want to play football anymore. Who was going to cheer for me now?”
Q: Would a death like that be the biggest challenge you’ve had to overcome so far?
“Yeah. Football helped me get everything I need out. Football is like a whole thing, and a whole different family together. People you don’t even know, and all of a sudden you’re all part of the same crew after the first day, and the bond gets stronger and stronger every day. [With my mom being gone,] I knew she was there spiritually. So when I look in the stands, that’s what I would be looking for… I know she’s out there cheering for me.”
Q: Where do you see football going in your life?
“Football can take me very far. I have too much love for it [not to]. [I’m going to] go as far as I can with it. I’m not going to give up until it’s time for me stop.”
Q: What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned playing football? Is there a sort of message that football has taught you over the years?
“It taught me how to bring people together, and help them out. Do what they need to do.”
Q: What does football mean to you?
“It means a lot. There’s just something that I can’t let go. So football is all I got.”
Q: What motivates you to keep playing football, especially after those injuries?
“My grandma, she helps motivate me to play football. She knows when it’s getting hard for me. She’ll sit down, talk to me, and push me through it. She’ll tell me that things will get hard, but you gotta get up every day and keep fighting.”
Q: How do you balance sports with your other responsibilities?
“I balance a lot. I put my priorities first, do what’s most important. I got to do what’s important for myself, outside of football [first]. School, work, house work, I do all of that.”
Q: Do you have a favorite football memory?
“It’s when me and last year’s team went to regionals and won. That was the best feeling ever. That feeling will never go away. That is a great memory. Winning regionals, we all went onto the field and celebrated.”
Q: How do you stay trained and in football-shape during the offseason?
“I work out and I train with Coach DT (a personal trainer). He helps me through the process [of keeping people in shape]. I work with him whenever I have a chance… like three days out of the week. [I also do] stuff on the side, like pushups, situps, crunches, running, eating the right food, all of that.”
Q: How are you looking to improve your game?
“I’m looking to go harder every day. You don’t know when it’s going to be your last rep, so you have to go harder every play, every chance you get – you have to make that play. You have to make that play for yourself. You have to go hard. The way you step on that field, putting the cleats, shoulderpads, and helmet on, it’s time to go.”
Q: On the other side, what is the strongest aspect of your game?
“My hitting power. When I hit… I’m a hammer. When I’m coming, I’m coming. I’m a problem back there. [When I play, I model my game after] Sean Taylor. He was a hard-hitting safety. He has the hardest hits I’ve seen in my life. Him and Ronnie Lott.”
Q: What are some goals you’ve set for yourself?
“I really only got one goal: do better than last year. Be a little different version of yourself and level up. [As a team,] Our goal is to get to December 10th (the state championship game). December 10th is our goal. You gotta get to December 10th.”
Q: What is your favorite part of playing safety?
“I just get to roam back there. I’m free. I can just do what I want when I’m back there. You don’t see me coming when I’m hitting you. You throw it wrong, I’m coming. That’s all it is. I feel like a snake when I’m back there, a python. When I strike, I hit hard.”
Q: Do you consider football to be more physically challenging, mentally challenging, or a bit of both?
“It’s really physically challenging, but all football is is a mind game. You just can’t have a weak mindset. You’re going to face a lot of adversity, it’s just how you respond to it. All of football is a mental game. It’s like you’re playing chess to me. Well, its 50-50. That’s how I think about it. [Football] takes a toll on your body.”
Q: What is something you want your coaches to know about you, past, present, or future?
“I’m a dawg. I put in the work when I need to. When it’s time to go, it’s time to go. I’m the first one there.”
You can view his highlights here.