Knee sidelines Jonas Gray for season
Jonas Gray's breakout season came up short.
The Notre Dame running back has a "significant" injury to his right knee and Irish coach Brian Kelly is not expecting the senior to play again. The Irish, who moved up two spots to No. 22 in this week's Associated Press Top 25, finish the regular season at No. 4 Stanford on Saturday and are expected to play in a bowl game.
"It's pretty apparent he's got a significant knee injury," Kelly said Sunday.
Kelly is still awaiting the MRI results on Gray's knee. But when asked if Gray's career at Notre Dame was done, Kelly said, "That's unfortunately what it looks like right now."
Gray's injury is a huge loss for the Irish, who are 4-0 since the 5-foot-10, 230-pound back was inserted into the starting lineup. He and Cierre Wood gave Notre Dame (8-3) a potent run game -- not exactly what opponents expected from a Kelly offense -- with Wood providing the power and Gray the speed.
The two were on track to be Notre Dame's first pair of 1,000-yard rushers, combining for 1,800 yards, and they scored all but three of Notre Dame's 24 touchdowns on the ground. Those 24 rushing TDs are the most by Notre Dame since 2000, and equal the Irish output of the previous two seasons.
Gray finishes with 791 yards rushing on 114 carries and 12 touchdowns, including a 26-yard rumble on the opening drive of Notre Dame's 16-14 victory over Boston College on Saturday. The touchdown extended his scoring streak to eight games, the longest by a Notre Dame running back since 1998.
"He has really stepped up as a leader and really put together a great senior season," quarterback Tommy Rees said after Saturday's game. "To be honest, I probably wouldn't be in the position I am if it wasn't for him. When I first (got here) a couple springs ago he really helped me out a lot. You feel for a guy anytime he gets banged up like that."
Gray was hurt on Notre Dame's first drive of the third quarter, and it was immediately apparent the injury was a serious one. He looked upset as he sat on an equipment trunk and trainers wrapped a large ice pack around his right knee, and several teammates came over to offer encouragement. He managed to walk to the locker room, but he barely put any weight on his right leg.
When Gray addressed his teammates afterward, linebacker Manti Te'o said several had to put their heads down.
"It was the hardest thing," Te'o said. "I'd never wish that upon any player, let alone a senior, and let alone a guy like Jonas who put in so much work, sacrifices so much for this team. He's one of the leaders on this team. Just because he's not on the field, knowing Jonas, is not going to stop him from making an impact on this team."
It wasn't simply Gray's production that made him a team favorite, it was the work and the story behind it.
The Pontiac, Mich., native arrived at Notre Dame as one of the most highly touted running backs in the country. But he didn't live up to the hype his first three seasons, playing in all of 22 games and rushing for 309 yards. When a knee injury limited him last season, the younger Wood supplanted him on the depth chart.
Gray never complained, and would do anything the coaches asked: special teams, working with the scout squad. But he said last week that watching Notre Dame's Pro Day last spring made him realize he was capable of more.
"Seeing those guys competing and doing those things, I was just looking at it and saying, 'I can do everything they're doing and I feel like maybe I can do it better,' " he said.
Though he had a costly fumble in the season opener against South Florida, which the Bulls returned 96 yards for a score in the 23-20 upset, Gray refused to hang his head. He rushed for a then-career high 66 yards the next week against Michigan and, two weeks after that, scored his first touchdown.
Inserted into the starting lineup against Navy, he responded with three touchdowns.
"I am going to be remembered for that fumble," Gray said last week. "I'm (also) going to be remembered as the guy who made a mistake early on, but persevered through it and continued to play hard, continued to come back week after week and have an exceptional senior season."
Notre Dame is doing a deep clean of its meeting rooms and weight room after several players came down with bad cases of the flu. Captain Harrison Smith needed an IV on Friday night, and defensive end Stephon Tuitt missed Saturday's game because he was so sick. "We're on full alert because we've had so many guys affected by this at this point," Kelly said.
Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press