ANN ARBOR, Mich. - In another dark moment, another instance where Jonas Gray had to find himself, Jerri Gray’s voice pierced through the fog of negativity.
“Normally, my mom kind of tries to coach me up a little bit,” the Notre Dame senior running back said. “This time she just had some great advice. She said, ‘Just have confidence in yourself, take the coaching and you’ll be better for the experience.’ ”
And Jerri Gray was in Michigan Stadium Saturday night - along with 19 other of Jonas’ family members and friends for whom he secured tickets - to see how that advice played out.
She didn’t have to wait long for a glimpse. Jonas Gray, a product of nearby Pontiac who had the ball stripped out of his hands near the goal line on ND’s first offensive series in the season opener against South Florida, made his first appearance for the Irish on the second ND offensive possession.
He promptly turned a short pass into a 15-yard gain, lost three yards on his first run of the game, then burst into the Michigan secondary on the very next play for a 16-yard run.
Starting running back Cierre Wood capped what turned out to be an 83-yard scoring drive with a four-yard touchdown run and an early Irish 14-0 command. Gray later in the half had a key 12-yard run on third down that set up a David Ruffer field goal with 1:40 left before intermission.
“(Cierre) was the one to come up to me on the sideline,” Gray said referring to the fumble against USF that was returned 96 yards for a TD. “And he said, ‘To us, it never happened. You’ve got to go out there and keep playing.’
“He’s like a brother to me. We’re with each other a lot - roommates on the road, roommates at home, He’s there to pick me up. He’s there to push me too.”
And Jerri Gray, a 14-year veteran of the Pontiac Police Department, was there to show Jonas that anything was possible when he was growing up.
When Jonas and brother Cori were in elementary school, Jerri was on welfare. Wanting to forge a better life for her sons, Jerri enrolled in a community college at age 28, which led to the police job and her being able to walk into the welfare office and declare she didn't need it anymore.
“I’m glad that first game after the fumble is at Michigan Stadium,” Gray said earlier in the week. “It’s not the facility. I mean, there have been great players and great games there, but this game is about family and going home.”
After the 23-20 loss to South Florida, ND coach Brian Kelly pulled Gray aside and asked him how he wanted to be remembered.
“I want to be remembered as a guy who, with 11 games left in the season, just went out and played with a chip on his shoulder, made some big plays and persevered in things, a guy who is just a good comeback story.”
-- Thirteen scholarship freshmen and freshman walk-on linebacker Joe Schmidt made the travel roster.
The other frosh to make the trip were running backs George Atkinson III and Cam McDaniel; outside linebackers Ishaq Williams, Troy Niklas and Ben Councell; defensive ends Aaron Lynch and Stephon Tuitt; quarterback Everett Golson; cornerback Josh Atkinson; tight end Ben Koyack; offensive tackle Nick Martin; kicker Kyle Brindza and wide receiver DaVaris Daniels.
Notably absent from the travel roster were sophomore wide receiver Daniel Smith, a South Bend Clay grad, and junior nose guard Tyler Stockton.
-- Sophomore nose guard Louis Nix made his first collegiate start Saturday night against Michigan.
-- Senior John Goodman replaced junior Theo Riddick on punt returns.