Bath Rugby’s victory over Sale Sharks, in Round 9 of the Gallagher Premiership, was a meaningful occasion for more than just the four points. Towards the end of the second half, Alex Gray became the Club’s latest debutant when he took to the field to replace Will Muir.
The winger, who has been on his own unique sporting journey, described his debut as ‘a cool feeling.’ What outsiders might not totally appreciate is just how much effort the 29-year-old has invested to pull on the famous hooped jersey.
There has been nothing generic about Gray’s professional involvement within sport to date. Without ageing the likeable flyer, Gray points out that it has been over a decade since he was wearing the Newcastle Falcons No. 8 shirt against Bath. A product of the Falcons Academy, it was where he first got to grips with the game as a forward.
From Kingston Park to the Madejski Stadium, the then versatile backrower, appeared for London Irish 29 times over a two-season spell before trading 15s for Sevens. He made his England Sevens debut in 2013 and was recognised a couple of years later as the RPA Sevens Player of the Year.
There is no doubt that Gray’s biggest leap into the unknown was taken on 25 May 2017; the date when the 6’4” athlete committed to the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons to pursue a career in American Football. After 3 years in North America, it’s understandable that Gray ultimately ‘felt like an NFL player and no longer a rugby player.’ The winger highlights that his time in the USA has made him a stronger competitor; ‘I was faced, one-on-one with some of the scariest athletes in the world at the NFL, there is no one I fear now.'
His commitment to transition back to professional rugby has been no mean feat. The former NFL Tight end cites the differences between the sports and the incomparable physical attributes now required to operate in the Gallagher Premiership. The focus Stateside was predominantly based on power rather than endurance. However, in an impressive short space of time at Farleigh House, Gray has had to both mentally and physically adapt to the standards of professional rugby once more, and get to grips with his positional change. From aerobic conditioning to studying footage with the analysts, it is commendable that Gray is where he is already.
Understandably, Gray is immensely proud of his sporting-code transition and it clearly takes a certain type of personality to achieve what the County Durham-born player has throughout his career. If the last 10 years is anything to go by, the determined Gray is just getting started.