The longtime boys basketball coach with 410 wins and a state championship is just getting his full team together this week after the Norwalk football team reached the state semifinals last week.
But what he has seen in the three days after school this week has left an impression on the 17th-year coach of the Truckers.
“This community should be very proud of these kids for what they accomplished in football,” Gray said. “It’s unbelievable the effort that they gave in practice on Tuesday. I never talked to the kids about when they are supposed to be here — and every kid showed up on Monday.
“I just think it says a lot about their character and work ethic,” he added. “They are everything that is good about athletics.”
Gray raised some eyebrows in the basketball community with regards to the regular season schedule. As far back as October, when it appeared the football team was playoff bound, Gray never wavered. The Truckers were going to play right away.
And so with just five practices with the entire roster, which includes two key starters and three reserve players who played football last Friday, Norwalk will begin the season on Monday at Huron.
“My question is, why not play on five practices? We have a league game on Friday (vs. Tiffin Columbian),” Gray said. “Our goal has never been about going 22-0. It’s about competing for a league championship and being better in March for the tournament. We thought this gave us our best chance.”
The only true delayed game is a non-league home game vs. Ontario. Originally scheduled for this Saturday, that game will be played on Saturday, Jan. 26. The Truckers have six back-to-back games on weekends on the schedule.
“We really value practice,” Gray said. “And if we had to move three or four games back, you’re talking about two or three weeks where potentially you could have four games in a week with no practice time. The practice time is more important than moving another game back.”
Norwalk’s top player is senior point guard Brandon Haraway. As a junior, he was first team All-SBC Lake, Northwest District and District 6. The special mention All-Ohio selection is an NCAA Div. II Ashland University recruit, and on Tuesday this week was also named special mention All-Ohio as a wide receiver in football.
Haraway averaged 17.9 points, 5.9 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 2.1 steals per game in the regular season for the Truckers, who won 11 of their last 14 games to finish 14-10. In two tournament games, he totaled 46 points, 21 rebounds and eight assists.
All-Northwest District quarterback Garrett Chapin (2,142 yards, 13 TDs) is also a key player back on the hardcourt for the Truckers. As a freshman last season, he averaged nine points per game and was the team’s leading rebounder (7.2 per game).
Other football players making the quick transition include Ryan Sowders, Brandon Ehrenberg and Andrew Mozina.
Gray has maintained his only real concern in the quick turnaround is the conditioning aspect.
“They will play hard and know what to do and when to do it,” he said of his players. “It’s just going to come down to, will their legs allow them to do it?
“It’s a risk I’m willing to take, and i think if you talk to those kids coming off football, they’re excited,” Gray added. “And they should be.”