Winnipeg’s Geoff Gray was one of three Canadians to sign a priority undrafted free agent contract with an NFL team following this year’s draft, joining the Green Bay Packers on a three-year deal.
NFL Canada caught up with the University of Manitoba standout as he prepares to make the Lambeau Leap to the NFL.
When did you first pick up a football? What made you fall in love with the sport?
I started playing football when I was 12 because my friends at school played. I continued to play as a kid because I simply enjoyed it. As I got to a higher level, the physical nature of the game attracted me.
At what point did you start believing you had a real shot of making it to the NFL?
Being invited to the East-West Shrine Bowl in January 2017 was when I first considered the NFL as a possibility. The feedback I received from scouts and my performance in the game strengthened my belief. I don’t look at myself or approach my training any differently than I did a year ago, a month before the draft, the day after the draft or today.
There were several teams knocking on your door over Draft weekend. What made the Packers the right fit for you?
The pre-draft visit played a large role in my decision. From meeting coaches face-to-face, I thought it would be a good fit for me. The Packers have been a very stable organization in recent years, which is important to me as more of a development-type player. I also appreciate that it is a smaller city with an excellent fan base. Growing up in Winnipeg and moving to a large city would have been a major adjustment for me.
What was your rookie minicamp experience like? What has your daily routine been since?
Rookie minicamp went well, I learned a lot. I haven’t had time to sit around and reflect on it but I thought I stacked up well physically. The focus of the practice was fundamentals and examining your ability to move, which is to my favour. I went home for a week then returned for OTAs. A typical day consists of a workout in the morning, team and positional meetings, walkthrough, rookie positional meetings, practice and rookie meetings.
What do you expect the transition to the NFL game will be like for you?
I’m well aware there is a large learning curve. There are additional adjustments to American football having only played in Canada before. The most obvious is the lack of the one-yard neutral zone. This changes footwork, angles and aiming points for the offensive line. With 11 men and no receiver waggle, the offensive and defensive scheme and formation is different. This will take time and reps for me to adjust to but the basic attributes (power, good body position, etc.) that made me successful in Canada are transferable to NFL even if the fine details are slightly different.
What advice do you have for youth football players in Canada?
Train properly. It’s not about hard work; it’s about doing everything correctly. Going to the gym is pointless if you don’t eat correctly and sleep enough. There is a time to push yourself but you also need to know when to hold back and just stick to target numbers. You can’t make progress if you are injured.
What was it like to watch fellow Bison David Onyemata not only selected in the NFL Draft, but playing for the Saints last season? Did seeing his dreams become reality inspire you to take things to another level?
It was nice to see him succeed, he deserved it. Practicing against him helped make me a better player, in turn aiding my transition to the next level. However, what others have done beforehand doesn’t change what I do or how I train.
Is there anything you want to say to the University of Manitoba, your teammates, coaches, and everyone else who has supported you up to this point in your career?
There are countless people who have helped support me throughout my football career so far, and there are bound to be many more to follow. I’d like to thank all my past coaches and volunteers in my younger years of football. If I had not had a positive experience early on I may not still be playing today. The entire Bison coaching staff put in a tremendous amount of time and effort despite being primarily volunteer coaches. All the past teammates that I practiced with helped make me and the team better every practice. The Bison strength and condition staff, as well as Hercules Weightlifting Club, deserve credit for aiding my training.
We saw you ride a unicycle after your Manitoba pro day. Are you aware of the Packers’ tradition of riding kids’ bikes to training camp? What are the odds we see you break from tradition and ride in on a unicycle?
It has come up a few times already (laughing). I didn’t bring mine with me so it depends if there is a Packers fan out there with a unicycle. If there is one there I’ll be happy to ride it.