‘Keep your head up’

brittni vilandre

Students holding up No. 24 at the candlelight vigil remembering Robert Grays on Jesse Rogers Promenade on Sept. 21. photo by Elias Maki

The 5’8, 160-pound cornerback Robert Grays, business sophomore, inspired his Mustang family and, according to his teammates, his legacy and the impact he had on the campus will carry on forever.

“Rob was a character he always kept everybody up even if things didn’t look too good, motivated people,” John Little Jr., sophomore defensive back and close friend, said. “He had a smile that was very contagious. He was a great guy, great friend, closest thing I could have to a brother. The only thing separating us was blood. He was always finding the good in situations, no matter how bad it was he always found the good, and he went 100 miles per hour every time he did something. He put all his effort into it.”

On his final game against Texas A&M-Kingsville, Grays’ life took a turn that would impact not only friends and family, but hundreds of students on campus. With 3:24 left in the fourth quarter, Grays’ cleats brushed against the soft bristled turf one last time as he ran to complete his 34th tackle of his Mustangs career.

“He’s made this tackle hundreds of times,” Kyle Williams, athletic director, said. “But it was just one of those situations that landed wrong.”

As Grays hit the field, he sent an entire wave of fear across the stands. Within seconds, a new story had just beginning. The tale of a walk on freshman and veteran sophomore turned into the fight for his life.

A cloud of unforeseen hope spread across the campus on Sept. 19 as the campus awaited any possible updates of Grays’ recovery.

Grays died on the evening of Sept. 19 after neck injuries sustained at the game and students used social media to convey their regards to the player and his family.

“He was always smiling, never saw him with a frown on his face ever,” Gage Thomason, freshman offensive lineman said. “He’s just a good guy to be around. He cared about everybody.”

While his ever present smile continues to be his trademark, Grays’ perseverance to never back down from a challenge urges his team onward.

“He’d get banged up and he’d sit out for a play or two, then he’d come right back. I mean it was amazing,” head coach Bill Maskill said.

Even off the field, Grays spread inspiration.

Before the first game of his college career, nervous beyond belief, Little looked to his “brother” for inspiration. With his unforgettable smile, Grays looked at him and said, “Don’t worry about it bro, you got it. We gonna get the dub and you know we gonna turn up afterwards.”

That night the boys won their first game 31-19 against Truman State.

Marking one of the first “dubs” in his college career, this is what soon shaped Grays life at MSU and where students would soon realize just how big of an impact he had.

Although T’Andrea Brown, social work sophomore, said she never knew him, a lot of her friends did.

“They’d say there was never a time you wouldn’t see him smiling, you would never see him mad. He was always doing something funny, he was always doing something to make people laugh,” Brown said.

The effect his personality had was contagious, according to Brown.

“I realized last year they had a Super Bowl party and his favorite team was the Patriots and they won. When they won, he was running up and down Legacy Hall, I mean you would never see him in a bad mood,” Brown said.

Mindful of the impact he has had on the campus, University President Suzanne Shipley encouraged students to look after each other in this time.

“You might not even know the person sitting next to you suffering because the death, even if you don’t know the person, can really unsettle you, and that’s why we have to be super vigilant for each other right now,” Shipley said.

Maskill and the rest of the team believe that Grays is in good hands now.

“We believe that he’s in good hands, we’re going to continue to practice,” Maskill said. “It wasn’t the plan we wanted, but it was the plan the Lord wanted. His dad said, ‘you know we were praying for a miracle and we didn’t get the one we wanted, but he’s going to the Lord.'”

Clouds clearing up and the sight of a double rainbow brought a new light to Grays’ death, and helped remind campus of Grays’ positive, outgoing personality.

Grays was raised to always have the best outlook on life.

“There was no bad days in that kid’s life. Now he might have had a headache or a sore tooth, but he didn’t complain,” Maskill said.

After news spread about Grays’ death, the campus rose together to do anything possible to help his family.

Little said if Grays could see the impact he’s had on the campus community, he’d “love it.”

“He would also want everybody to keep their heads up and just don’t be sad about it,” Little said. “He’s in a better place. He’s probably looking down and laughing at us right now.”

Hundreds of students attended a candlelight vigil in Grays’ honor at Jesse Rogers Promenade on Sept. 21, where his friends and team gathered to remember his legacy.

His legacy and the impact he had on people is “obvious,” according to Maskill.

“The way he impacted the football team was just his personality. Like Ford said up there tonight, he was always positive, he was enthusiastic, he was energetic, he was emotional, he was dancing, he was having fun, he was messing with you,” Maskill said.

As the morning of Sept. 24 approached, the football players woke up from their six-hour bus ride to Rosharon, Texas for Grays’ homegoing celebration. Entering the church dressed in strictly their jerseys and jeans, the football team attended to pay their respects to Grays and his family. With the service lasting two hours and open to everyone on livestream, the room was filled with more smiles than frowns as everyone remembered his life.

The 19-year-old athlete made sure to share his positive outlooks on life with his friends.

“He always told me to keep my head up,” Little said.

To help the Grays family with the medical expenses, click here.