All-Ohio Buckeye tackle Hunter Gray is a four-star long-snapping recruit. RON SCHWANE / GAZETTE
Hunter Gray is a Division III All-Ohio tackle, nationally ranked long snapper (who knew?) and California kid with long, curly blond hair to boot.
The 6-foot-2, 240-pounder is anything but shy, too, so he has no problem sticking out whether at Buckeye High or on the football field.
Through eighth grade, Gray dreamed of playing for 10-time California state champion Centennial High, located two hours east of Los Angeles in Corona. A job transfer forced the family to change addresses, but Gray couldn’t be happier.
Naturally life is different in Ohio. Gray prefers the change in seasons, greener scenery and laid-back people. He also loves the small, tight-knight Buckeye community and, with a charismatic personality, had little problem adjusting socially.
What hasn’t changed is winning, as the Bucks are 20-4 with Gray in the starting lineup as an offensive tackle, defensive end and long snapper.
“He’s a student of the game, and he works harder than anyone I’ve ever seen,” Bucks coach Mark Pinzone said. “As Hunter goes, a lot of times so does our offense. Any skill guy will tell you that.”
Gray certainly enjoys being a lineman and leader. The honor student gets genuine joy reading about how the Bucks’ skill players tore it up in the latest game, especially since guys like quarterback Michael Doerge and slotback Justin Canedy acknowledge the hogmollies blocking for them.
What makes Gray especially unique is his elite long-snapping abilities, though initially he said “whatever” when in youth football his father told him the underappreciated position would “pay for your education one day.”
Gray isn’t laughing now, as he has excelled at Kohl’s Kicking Camps in states such as Illinois, Colorado, Pennsylvania and Florida. The publication ranks Gray a four-star recruit — or the No. 11 senior in the country.
Long snappers rarely receive full-ride scholarships — “On the grocery lists of recruits, they’re at the very bottom,” Gray quipped — and are usually not recruited by big-time schools until after signing day.
Purdue, Bowling Green and a host of Football Championship Subdivision schools, including academically prestigious Columbia, have been in contact for long snapping, but Gray is leaning toward D-II power Ashland, which wants him as a lineman, too.
“It’s not an every-day thing you hear,” Gray said with a smile. “I never really had real coaching other than my dad and my teammates. Once I got into high school, people were like, ‘Yeah, you’re pretty good,’ and I started getting some recognition.
“The cool thing is knowing in your head that you have a skill set that not many people can do. It’s a very rare thing, and if someone trusts you in that aspect, it’s a nice feeling.”
While Gray is playing defense part time this year — he has 11ﾽ career tackles for loss — he remains Buckeye’s go-to player on offense.
When Doerge runs the ball on a counter, Gray helps create the hole by pulling playside. When Canedy takes off on a jet sweep, Gray sprints diagonally to the sideline and looks to seal defenders inside.
No. 64 is a new-school high school tackle, as he excels using footwork, quick hips and leverage instead of sprinting straight ahead and hitting defenders as hard as he can. Gray also has outstanding peripheral vision, allowing him to pick up blocks 99 percent of other high school tackles can’t.
A skill set like that is so unique that Ashland has talked with Gray about playing fullback.
“In California, it’s a little different, too, in the way that every play you go until the end of the whistle,” he said. “You don’t just play hard. You play smart with good technique. From a young age, it was driven in my head — technique, technique, technique.”
With a big smile and positive outlook, Gray is the type of leader Buckeye needed heading into this season. The Bucks lost 90 percent of their 2015 starting lineup to graduation, yet are 2-1 heading into a game against winless Fairview tonight.
All Gray knows is winning. He isn’t going to stop now.
“He’s always getting guys up and he does what he can,” punter Brenden McBride said. “He’s willing to sacrifice for our team, and he’s the definition of what we want for a Buckeye football player.”
Contact Albert Grindle at (330) 721-4043 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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