On May 29th, former Nebraska defensive back Henry Gray announced on Twitter that he would be entering his name in the NCAA transfer portal due to an “unexpected family situation.”
He stated his intention to transfer to FIU seven days later, landing the Panthers their highest-rated signee in the program’s 18 years of existence.
How did the four-star prospect go from spending the next four years 1,651 miles away from his high school to now only being a mere 25-minute drive - it took a team effort on social media - and a commitment to a Butch Davis coaching philosophy.
“Coach Davis preaches that recruiting is the lifeblood of a program which means that we’re never done trying to improve our football team and we have to make a push to get kids like this,” said cornerbacks coach Bryn Renner.
Following Gray’s entry to the transfer portal, FIU contacted him through phone calls and the recruitment process began.
“He’s a really good kid and we had him a few years back at a junior day on-campus, so there was already a level of familiarity there,” said Renner.
He, along with running backs coach Tim Harris Jr. and tight ends coach Drew Davis were vital in securing the services of the Miami native, who committed to Nebraska in September of 2019, choosing the Huskers over various Power Five offers including Miami, Alabama, and Ohio State.
He participated in winter conditioning as an early enrollee and was in attendance for the first two spring practices before the COVID-19 pandemic brought college football to a halt across the country.
During the 2019 recruiting cycle, Gray’s services were highly sought after as the 43rd ranked player in Florida by 247 Sports.
With his transfer to FIU, Gray becomes the fourth player from the South Florida area in the past two seasons, who began their career with a Power Five program to end up with the Panthers.
The allure of wanting to return home for players who went out of state is something that the program has taken into account with their recruiting strategy.
“Each year, you never know what will happen as far as a kid wanting to play closer to home, so we’ll keep a few spots open because you don’t know who will become available,” said head coach Butch Davis following the Panthers’ signing day ceremony in February.
For Renner and the rest of the assistants, trying to keep as many players as close to home as possible is a significant selling point that played a part in landing Gray.
“There’s something about the South Florida culture that you can’t get out of state and it’s noticeable when we have a bye week, because we’ll have a ton of our guys going back to their high school - there’s a pride in this area, and that’s huge,” said Renner.
Two of Gray’s high school teammates - running backs Lexington Joseph and Kejon Owens are on FIU’s roster - and multiple South Florida natives on the team retweeted Gray’s commitment to FIU.
“Once he announced that he was in the portal, it was almost like our whole team recruited him via social media because they want to play with kids they know,” said Renner.
It’s anticipated that Gray will have to redshirt this season due to NCAA transfer rules.
However, similarly to cornerback Josh Turner, a Delray Beach native who transferred to FIU last January, expect FIU to formally submit a hardship waiver to the NCAA seeking immediate eligibility, especially in light of Gray’s family situation and the Coronavirus pandemic.
Whenever he does see the field, it’s widely regarded that the Panthers are getting an immediate playmaker.
“He’s a big-time player with plenty of skill. FIU is getting a prospect who has the chance to be special and will impact the program as soon as he steps on the field,” said Larry Blustein, who’s a recruiting expert in the South Florida region.
The 6-1, 175-pound Gray was listed as a safety on Nebraska’s roster, but expect to see him in more of a hybrid corner/safety role at FIU.
“We’ll have him at corner, but his versatility is huge. He’s played outside at corner, inside at nickel, and of course safety so he can do all three,” said Renner.