January 10, 2020
Dick Harmon-Deseret News
In football lingo, Brian Gray is what scouts label a very stout athlete.
He had speed, size, great closing ability as a defensive back and was very strong. When he laid a hit on a running back, receiver or tight end, they could feel it in the fillings of their teeth. The BYU cornerback was a whole lot of what you really need more of in a Cougars defense.
He had a way of answering questions from reporters that was unique. He’d pause a little, look you in the eye like you’d just landed from Mars, and give a response that was half accurate and half playing with you. On Thursday, members of the BYU community, including Hans Olsen, began reacting to news that Brian Gray, a BYU star from Hawthorne, California, had died on his 44th birthday.
And that is sad, indeed. He is easily one of the best corners to ever play BYU football.
At the end of his life, Brian Douglas Gray fell on hard times after a short NFL career that ended 18 years ago.
In a GoFundMe post to help with funeral services, his sister Brandy wrote:
“He was an awesome brother and friend. (T)he family is asking for donations for help in supporting efforts to have a going home celebration. A true warrior, Brian was a victim of addiction due to his suffering of injuries, concussion, and epilepsy during his NFL career. Brian never asked for anything so this is hard for the family. He was independent and self-reliant and never burden his family with his struggles. Brian struggled to find his joy without football but his legacy will forever be remembered.”
Current BYU cornerbacks coach Jernaro Gilford looked up to Gray, who helped pave the path to BYU for Gilford. “Brian and Tim McTyer and Omarr Morgan and I all grew up within four miles of each other and Brian made it easy for me to come to Provo where he was my roommate. He comes from a great family, two parents and a sister who are great people. He will be missed.”
Gilford remembers Gray’s work ethic, how he was driven by hard work. “In the summers we’d go to El Camino College and work with him and he’d leave me laying on the grass out of wind thinking I was going to die after running up the stadium.”
Gilford remembers Gray’s pranks and his sense of humor, which was legendary. One time he put some numbing rub from the training room on mouthpieces of several of his teammates. “About three minutes into practice, they were spitting them out and wondering what was going on as he laughed,” said Gilford.
“Brian was the best of us,” said former teammate Hans Olsen. “A fresh perspective, a creative sense of humor, a drive to be great at the game, When he stood up in the locker room, we all settled in for an amazing laugh or motivational push. His impersonations would push us to the point of nauseated laughing.”
Gray, a transfer from El Camino College, played on Edwards’ final squads as the the 1990s came to a close. After school, he was under contract with the Bengals, Seahawks and Lions of the NFL through 2002.
“He was as talented a guy as we’d had in the program when I was there,” said former coach Barry Lamb, who recruited him out of El Camino. “We brought him in in the fall and he started right away, was all-conference for two years. He was very gregarious and a fun-loving guy. He loved football, loved practice and loved playing and games and he had moments when he was extremely thoughtful. Also, he was slated to start as a rookie in the NFL.”
BYU signed Gray and Gilford as DBs from Hawthorne’s Westchester High in the late ’90s. Gilford was a four-year player.
I’ll never forget the look on Gray’s face the day I asked him if he knew where Brian Wilson’s (Beach Boys) old house was in Hawthorne. “Who?” he asked.
Gray could impersonate LaVell, complete with stance, pose and gait. He could mimic the gruff speeches of defensive line coach Tom Ramage, the pontification of lovable recruiting coordinator Chris Pella and mock the Waco, Texas, accent yelling of defensive backs coach Brian Mitchell.
“It was spot-on and comedy,” said Olsen. “He brightened a room with his attitude and love for the game. He also put us all on edge with his pranks.”
Fellow defenders would hear Gray say in the huddle, “I’ve got you guys.” And they believed him.
In Gray’s junior season in 1998, he made 33 tackles, had two interceptions, 12 pass breakups, one sack, three tackles for loss, and a QB hurry. He had a pick-six in each of his two years as a Cougar, a 39-yarder against San Diego State and a 28-yard return against Virginia.
“Brian was everything you could ever want in a teammate,” said former teammate, linebacker Derik Stevenson. “We all loved him because we knew we could rely on him. On the field and off. He always had your back. He was a true leader. He kept us laughing and loose in the locker room and intense and focused come game time.”
Rest in peace, Mr. Gray.
The memories will never die.