Gray, Eagles still alive for 5-2A playoff berth

by Levi Gilbert

Hayden Gray and the Cutter Morning Star Eagles had one goal entering the 2016 season — make the 2A state playoffs.

With just two games remaining, the goal is still alive for the Eagles. Cutter Morning Star (4-4, 1-4 5-2A) sits a game out of the fifth and final playoff spot heading into Friday’s crucial game at Bigelow.

Gray, a senior quarterback/defensive back for the Eagles, was selected to this year’s 501 Football Team — 26 players representing all 11 counties of the 501. The team, sponsored by First Service Bank and First Security Bank, boasts the best the 501 has to offer both on and off the field. Gray was nominated by his head coach, T.C. Shamel.
“Hayden has a really good overall knowledge of the game,” Shamel wrote in his nomination. “He’s a hard worker, dedicated and a team leader. He sets a great example and leads others in that fashion.”

Last year, Gray served at wide receiver for the Eagles, and according to Shamel, was their “top receiving threat.” This year, Gray made the move to quarterback. He’s also a leader in the defensive secondary.

“I would like to have 1,000 yards passing and make all-district this year,” Gray said. “I have 975 yards passing through eight games — 25 away from my original goal.”

Gray has faced his share of adversity over his high school football days. Last season, Gray had to overcome two different injuries.

“On the very first play of our pre-season jamboree, I dislocated my shoulder,” Gray said. “Luckily, we didn’t have a game for another two weeks, so I didn’t miss any playing time. I wasn’t 100 percent healthy when I began playing again that season. Then on the third game of the season against Bismarck, I partially tore my ACL and my MCL.

“I thought my days of playing football were over, but Dr. Young gave me the good news that I wasn’t going to have to have surgery. I only needed physical therapy. That made me miss a couple of games with my knee healing, but I got to finish up the season after the Conway Christian game last year.”

This season, Gray hasn’t had to face injury, but he and the Eagles had a unique set of scheduling adversities early in the season.

“We were undefeated in the non-conference schedule,” Gray said. “We played Fountain Lake’s junior varsity team because Horatio cancelled on us late. We beat them 42-0. We were scheduled to play Mountain Pine but they forfeited this year because they didn’t have enough players. That was a challenge because we hadn’t played a game for 18 days going into the Bismarck game. We went to Bismarck being 21-point underdogs. We ended up beating them 40-21.”

The 5-2A conference schedule has not been as kind to the Eagles.

“Conference play isn’t going all that well,” Gray said. “It’s difficult whenever you play the No. 1 and No. 2 teams (Hector and England) in the first half of your conference schedule, but we did get a good overtime win against Poyen on homecoming.

“I had a few games that I highlighted before the season started. Three games I highlighted were Poyen, Bigelow and Magnet Cove. I wanted to play them because ultimately if we beat them we can get into the playoffs as a No. 5 seed.”

The Eagles travel to Bigelow this week and close the season at Magnet Cove. Entering the Bigelow matchup, both the Eagles and the Panthers sit at 1-4 in 5-2A play. Magnet Cove is 2-3 in conference play. If the Eagles can close out the season with two road wins, they will earn the fifth playoff berth out of the 5-2A.

“We just have to play our game of football, and we’ll come out with two wins,” Gray said.  

Gray also plays basketball for the Cutter Morning Star Eagles and is a member of Fellowship of Christian Athletes. In the community, Gray is a member of The Well church in Hot Springs.