East Carolina senior wide receiver Davon Grayson catches a pass during spring practice in Greenville this week. Grayson missed all of last season with an injury but took a redshirt and hopes to be the Pirates' top receiver in the fall.
Stephen Igoe | 247Sports
East Carolina football head coach Scottie Montgomery watches during the first day of spring practice Monday in Greenville.
Stephen Igoe | 247Sports
By Stephen Igoe
Special to the Times
Last season wasn’t easy for Davon Grayson.
Instead of being next to his great friend and East Carolina’s record-breaking wide receiver Zay Jones on the field and the rest of the senior class he came in with, Grayson was forced to watch from the sidelines.
Slated to be one of the Pirates’ starting receivers as a senior, Grayson instead missed the entire season with a serious back injury, taking a redshirt in the process.
There were moments in 2016 it appeared Grayson would return for the second-half of the season. But with each setback, the hope for the present instead turned into hope for the distant future, and Grayson just wanted to be able to suit up again.
While he returned to practice the latter portion of last fall, Grayson was held out of contact for the most part due to the fear of re-aggravating his back injury. So when Grayson took the field on Monday for the first practice of spring fully cleared, it’s no surprise he was overcome with emotion.
“To see how this past year went, and to have to see it from the sidelines hurt a whole lot,” Grayson said on Monday. “You get so used to playing football here, and I’ve been here for five years now. Today, when I stepped out there, I got down on both my knees when I hit the field for the first time, and it just hit me, man. Tears ran down my face. I was just so thankful God gave me back what I’ve been striving for and working so hard for.”
But Grayson’s return isn’t only a feel-good story. The Suffolk, Va., native has produced on the field in the past, and if he continues to progress this offseason, he could be counted on to lead the wide receivers.
A 6-foot-2 wide out with big-play ability, Grayson knows he has the talent and experience to take his game to the next level, along with the rest of the receiving corps, which returns everyone but Jones, and also gets back standout upperclassmen Trevon Brown, who missed last season due to academics.
“Everybody’s going to be like, ‘Oh, how you going to replace Zay Jones?’” Grayson said. “Well, I think we have a lot in store to show them. Everyone’s going to be excited, I think.”
Grayson, who also overcame a torn knee ligament earlier in his career, enters the 2017 campaign with 76 catches for 881 yards and seven touchdowns over 28 starts. After seeing Jones elevate his game in unbelievable fashion as a senior last season, Grayson is hungrier than ever to pave his own path, and lead the way at the receiver position.
“I’ve been here and I’ve seen dominant players come through here and establish themselves, and move on past this, becoming something in the NFL,” Grayson said. “That’s always been my dream. With my injuries since I’ve been here, seeing other guys I’ve been tight with and guys I compete with, I think now my whole frame of mind this offseason has been to become that No. 1 guy, to become the ultimate team player, to become the guy my team needs for us to become championship contenders.”
EMPHASIS ON EXECUTION
Head coach Scottie Montgomery made it a point of emphasis to mention the word execution multiple times in his spring-opening press conference and following the team’s first practice on Monday.
Montgomery, whose team went 3-9 last season, said the Pirates are paying extra attention to the important details over the coming month, as position battles and development come to the forefront.
“The energy level is always there, but I’m more focused on our execution and teaching this spring,” Montgomery said. “We’re a much stronger and faster football team, that was evident on day 1 by how many of our guys have really transformed their bodies during the offseason. I thought our communication on defense was as good as I’ve ever seen it and we had great rotation up front.”
Montgomery, who doesn’t hand out many individual shout-outs on his own, made it a point to credit former Havelock star running back and Tennessee transfer Derrell Scott as having a big opening day.
“I really like how (he’s) transformed his body,” Montgomery said. “He had a certain weight we wanted him to get to and he met it.”
Scott didn’t play at all last season despite being eligible. He’s competing with senior Anthony Scott, junior Devin Anderson and sophomore Hussein Howe for playing time this spring.
The Pirates’ spring practice will run until April 22, when it concludes with the annual Purple-Gold game.
Stephen Igoe is the publisher of the East Carolina 247Sports website Hoist The Colours. Check out more of his work at eastcarolina.247sports.com.