Warren Central safety Gray is The Post’s Defensive Player of the Year

Published 8:00 am Tuesday, December 25, 2018

On Oct. 19 against Clinton, Lamar Gray had a game for the ages.

The Warren Central safety had 15 tackles. He blocked a punt late in the game to set up a pivotal touchdown. He even played running back and carried the ball 15 times for 54 yards and four touchdowns to lead the Vikings to a 35-31 win that propelled them into the MHSAA Class 6A playoffs.

It was a singular performance, but also symbolic of what Gray did for the Vikings this season — a little bit of everything. Whatever role they needed him in, or whenever a play had to be made, wherever on the field it had to happen, he was there to get the job done.

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The senior who led Warren Central in tackles for the second season in a row was not only the team’s most important defender, he was the best in Warren County. Gray is the 2018 Vicksburg Post Defensive Player of the Year.

“That’s an honor. I’ve been working hard all year, and to have something to show for it is good,” Gray said. “We didn’t get the ultimate prize, but to have something to show for all the hard work is good. There’s other guys working hard alongside me, too.”

Statistically, Gray slipped a bit from 2017 to 2018. He had 85 total tackles and eight tackles for loss this season, compared to 98 and 15 last year. He stepped up his game in other areas, however.

As one of the few returning veterans on a rebuilding defense, particularly the secondary, he was counted on to provide more leadership and make more plays. He did both, if not in volume then with big games and plays at pivotal moments.

“He’s a guy that definitely was, if not our biggest playmaker, then showed up on tape whether it was big hits or blocked kicks,” Warren Central head coach Josh Morgan said. “It was so many assets he could do. He was so versatile. On his resumé and stat sheet, pretty much all the boxes are checked. He’s just a complete football player and a great competitor.”

One of those plays that showed up on tape came in a playoff game last season against Tupelo. One of Tupelo’s receivers was wide open and caught a short pass along the sideline. From the time the pass was thrown until it was caught, a span of less than two seconds, Gray identified the play from his safety position, broke on it, covered the 10-yard gap between himself and the receiver, and made the tackle just as the receiver caught the ball.

“I feel like I played at a big level. I could’ve done some things better, but ultimately I feel like I did the best I can do. I feel like I left my mark,” Gray said. “My showcase and combine speed isn’t the fastest, but my game speed is definitely there.”

The entire Clinton game was a showcase for that versatility and unselfishness. While posting the fourth of his six games with eight or more tackles, he also blocked a punt and took over as the team’s primary running back when starter Jerrious Stovall went down early with an ankle injury.

Gray rarely left the field and almost single-handedly carried the Vikings to the win that saved their season. Despite finishing with a losing record for the first time since 2012, the Vikings reached the playoffs for the seventh year in a row.

“I didn’t want to go home. I didn’t want to lose. That game was to get us in the playoffs and it had to be done or we’d go home early,” Gray said.

Gray had 11 total tackles and one tackle for loss in Warren Central’s first-round playoff loss to eventual Class 6A champion Horn Lake, in the last of his 25 consecutive starts for the team. He didn’t play running back in that game, but still finished second on the team with seven rushing touchdowns on only 27 carries this season.

Gray scored a touchdown in all three games he played running back. He finished his high school career with 11 touchdowns on 44 carries spread over three varsity seasons. He was a backup running back in 2016 before moving to defense — mostly — full-time in 2017.

On defense Gray finished his career with 184 tackles and 23 tackles for loss, and led the team in tackles each of the last two years.

Gray said his unselfish attitude stemmed from a desire to help his teammates succeed.

“Mentally, you just want to do it for the guys around you. More than anything you want to see them come out with the win and be in the fieldhouse happy,” said Gray, who also was a first-team All-Region 2-6A selection. “It’s super easy to come out here and say you’re doing everything for yourself. You’re doing it just to get yourself an offer. You’re doing it for your own good. I try to be unselfish and do it for the guys around me. It’s not hard to do it for them, because they’re going to do it for you too.”

Always, it seemed, Gray did it for the Vikings.

“Whenever his number was called, he was always ready to go,” Morgan said. “He was always team-first with his attitude and a selfless player that loved his team. He’s definitely an MVP.”

Vicksburg Post Defensive Players of the Year
2018 – Lamar Gray, DB, Warren Central
2017 – Nick Anderson, LB, Vicksburg
2016 – Nick Anderson, LB, Vicksburg
2015 – Jomon O’Neal, DL, Vicksburg
2014 – DeArius Christmas, LB, Warren Central
2013 – DeArius Christmas, LB, Warren Central
2012 – DeArius Christmas, LB, Warren Central
Derrick Thomas, LB, Warren Central
2011 – Devon Bell, P, Warren Central
2010 – Lee Douglas, LB, Central Hinds
2009 – Mitchell Hoskins, LB, Port Gibson
2008 – Carlos Williams, LB, Vicksburg
2007 – Carlos Williams, LB, Vicksburg
2006 – Dekores Branch, LB, Vicksburg
2005 – Willis McGowan, DB, Vicksburg
2004 – Chico Hunter, DB, Warren Central
2003 – Humphrey Barlow, LB, Porters Chapel
2002 – D’Eldrick Taylor, DB, Vicksburg
2001 – D’Eldrick Taylor, DB, Vicksburg
2000 – Thad Henderson, DT, Warren Central
1999 – Thad Henderson, DT, Warren Central
1998 – Jason Myers, LB, Vicksburg
1997 – Josh Morgan, DB, Warren Central
1996 – Ivan Martin, DL, Warren Central
1995 – Chris Rainey, LB, Vicksburg
1994 – Eric Payne, LB, Warren Central
1993 – Michael Myers, DL, Vicksburg
1992 – Michael Myers, DL, Vicksburg
1991 – Chris Henderson, LB, Vicksburg
1990 – Ronnie Taylor, LB, Vicksburg
1989 – Robert Winters, LB, Warren Central
1988 – Robert Winters, LB, Warren Central
1987 – Jack Muirhead, LB, Warren Central

About Ernest Bowker

Ernest Bowker is The Vicksburg Post's sports editor. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post's sports staff since 1998, making him one of the longest-tenured reporters in the paper's 140-year history. The New Jersey native is a graduate of LSU. In his career, he has won more than 50 awards from the Mississippi Press Association and Associated Press for his coverage of local sports in Vicksburg.

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