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December 16, 2011

Gray speeds on recovery road

Jonas Gray went pro the day after a torn ACL ended his college career.

Just hours removed from the senior running back's right knee buckling under a Boston College tackle, Gray's Detroit Country Day roots showed. Joe Dumars, Detroit Pistons president and father of Gray's best friend in high school, reached out to the running back's family to offer an introduction to world renowned surgeon James Andrews.

"Joe Dumars is like a godfather to me," Gray said.

Andrews advised Gray that Notre Dame's team doctor Brian Ratigan could perform the surgery to repair the ACL and meniscus damage. Instead, Gray opted for Andrews, having the surgery done in Florida on Nov. 29 under the same medial staff that operated on Washington Redskins running back Tim Hightower and Kansas City Chiefs safety Eric Berry.

Gray returned to campus a week later to begin rehab with trainer Rob Hunt.

When Notre Dame breaks for semester after this weekend, Gray will head home to Detroit and continue his rehab with the Pistons medical staff. Gray is one independent study short of graduation and will complete that requirement at home next semester.

"A few days after surgery I was able to do leg lifts and able to bend my knee," Gray said. "I made a huge stride into the recovery process that I was able to do that. Right now what I'm doing is rehabbing with Rob Hunt and he's doing a great job in making sure that I'm taking big steps every day, not smalls steps."

Gray said Andrews' prognosis for recovery was five months for full speed and six months to get back to complete functional strength. Gray is hopeful he'll be able to perform some strength tests for Pro Day, although he won't be ready for the full battery of combine testing.

If healthy, Gray appeared likely to be invited to the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis.

While it's early, Gray has already shown signs he'll power through his rehab faster than most would expect. In the week after surgery Gray was already able to perform a seated leg lift with weight. It took Dayne Crist nearly a month.

"We're just trying to get it to where I can do it every day," Gray said. "I was able to do the one day but then the next day I was having a tough time doing it. I think the thing that helped me a lot was how strong my legs are in general. I know after the surgery, my quad was totally shot, but I still had a little bit of strength in there."

The path for Gray to make the NFL is long, but so was his wait for playing time at Notre Dame. Before this season Gray had started just once and had never scored a touchdown.

Then he went 79 yards against Pittsburgh to rejuvenate his career and finish the season with 114 carries, 791 yards and 12 touchdowns. That lost fumble against South Florida had been reduced to a footnote by season's end. Gray has similar plans for his torn ACL a few years from now.

"I was given an opportunity this year and didn't look back," Gray said. "I'll continue to work hard until I'm a starting running back in the NFL."

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