High School Sports

Cedric Gray on sticking at Ardrey Kell: ‘I’d rather be a big fish in a small pond.’

Ardrey Kell High football player Cedric Gray, committed to North Carolina, admits he’s a little different than some of the area’s other elite players.

He’s said friends have encouraged him, at times, to play on more talented teams in different parts of town. But Gray said he never wanted to leave Ardrey Kell, where he wants to build a legacy.

“We haven’t had the winningest records here,” he said. “Everybody is like, ‘Ardrey Kell is not one of the premier schools.’ Everybody is at the (Mallard) Creeks, the Vances, the Houghs, the Myers Parks, and everybody is like, ‘You’re wasting your talent over there and you’re using yourself up before you get to college.’

“I just tune it out. I’d rather be a big fish at a small pond than a regular guy at all these schools where they’ve got every player going to (Division I) schools.”

Gray has developed into one of the top players in his school’s 13-year history. A 3-star national recruit at outside linebacker, Gray is a top 20 recruit in North Carolina by 247 Sports.

He’s also a big reason why the Knights have won six straight games. Since the school opened in 2006, Ardrey Kell has won more than six games — in a season — just five times.

The six-game win streak is the most at the school since 2014. If Ardrey Kell can beat SoMECK conference rival Olympic (6-2, 3-0) at home Friday in the Charlotte Observer’s game of the week, the Knights will set a record for consecutive wins.

In high school, Gray plays linebacker and wide receiver, and has strung together a series of big games. In last week’s 38-14 win at West Mecklenburg, for example, Gray had touchdown catches of 67 and 92 yards. The week before, when the Knights beat Harding 29-28, Gray had eight tackles on defense and six catches for 76 yards.

For the season, Gray has 37 catches for 569 yards and nine touchdowns. He has 78 tackles, three sacks and an interception plus 282 returns yards on special teams.

At North Carolina, he said he will only play linebacker and the Tar Heel coaches want him to add about 15 pounds to his 6-foot-3, 210-pound frame.

“They talked about the new era of linebackers,” Gray said, “more skilled and fast and can move around the field.”

Gray said committing to the Tar Heels was life-changing for him, and he said he definitely noticed a shift when Mack Brown was hired there to replace Larry Fedora.

“I’ve been on visits everywhere,” he said, “but when I was going to visit there, not to put anything bad on Fedora, the atmosphere wasn’t the same. (Brown) is so much more respected. This man has won a national championship and is a hall of fame coach. He gets a lot more respect and the energy has changed. People believe more. People believe they’re in a system where they can do better things.”

Before Gray gets to Chapel Hill, he said he’s got unfinished business in high school, like winning a league title, going to the postseason and becoming a player people will remember.

“I think I just keep doing what I’m doing, balling out, being a leader, and hopefully it will stand” he said, “And what I do after high school will leave an even bigger legacy. Kids will see me and say, ‘Hey that kid went to Ardrey Kell.’”

Langston Wertz Jr. is an award-winning sports journalist who has worked at the Observer since 1988. He’s covered everything from Final Fours and NFL to video games and Britney Spears. Wertz -- a West Charlotte High and UNC grad -- is the rare person who can answer “Charlotte,” when you ask, “What city are you from.”
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