By Ned Bekavac
Sport has thrown some serious physical challenges Peter Gray’s way.
The Guelph athlete has had to battle back from torn ACLs in not just one, but both of his legs.
Not all that long ago, sport also presented Gray with a huge mental challenge, as well.
Gray, a member of the highly-touted Western Mustangs football program, was pondering stepping away from football and hitting the rugby pitch.
After much mental deliberation, he did it. But the move came with a price.
By moving to the rugby Mustangs, Gray was turning away scholarship coin he would receive with football.
“It was hard. Really hard,” said Gray, of the decision. “It was the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make.”
And it’s one he says he doesn’t regret for a second.
“I wouldn’t change the decision for anything,” says Gray.
Back in high school, Gray was athlete of the year at Centennial CVI, and was a star on both the football field and rugby pitch.
Gray headed to Western on the heels of winning the District 10 football league award as its top defensive player.
Into his second season with the Mustangs, he just wasn’t feeling it.
Gray says the time commitment to play university football is like a “full-time job” and, after much thought, the business student figured the “lighter load” of rugby was just a better fit for him, especially academically.
“It’s a breath of fresh air,” he said of the switch.
“The effort and time commitment wasn’t worth it for me. And I’m blessed that I can play a second sport.”
He says the first Western rugby training session he attended was the most physically gruelling training he’s ever taken part in.
“It was the hardest thing. Tough. Exhausting. So I said: ‘O.K., this could be fun,’” he says with a laugh.
The rugby camaraderie is second to none for him. With far fewer players on a rugby squad than a football team, Gray says things feel more like a family this way.
“The tight bond and brotherhood we have at Western is really special,” he says.
Recently, Gray scored his first try for the Mustangs, and it came against his hometown University of Guelph Gryphons.
“That was unreal,” he says.
It was especially cool getting to play a Gryphons team that includes his longtime Centennial teammate Marcus Sherry, said Gray. Western won the game 34-8.
The Mustangs host Queen’s this weekend in a battle between the OUA’s only undefeated teams. Both head into the match with 3-0-0 records.
The Trib recently caught up with Gray for a Q&A.
• • •
Q: What is something neat or funny you recall about your time playing rugby or football as a youngster?
A: I always would look up at the older guys and think: “How the hell do you get that big and that fast?” It seemed almost impossible to me that anyone could grow to such a size.
After consulting my parents, the best course of action was deemed to be an aggressive vegetable increase in my diet, with an emphasis on broccoli, for some weird reason.
• • •
Q: The Trib’s paying the tab. What’s your tipple and where would you be having it?
A: A White Russian and I’d be sipping it on Barney’s Patio (in London), in the summer.
• • •
Q: What are the three most-played songs on your iPod?
A: Currently Katy Perry, Roar; DMX, Party Up; and Avicii, Wake Me Up.
• • •
Q: Alive or not, who are three famous people you’d like to have over for dinner and drinks?
A: Terry Crews, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.
• • •
Q: You’ve played both football and rugby, both pretty rough and tough sports, at a high level. Which sport would you say is rougher?
A: Having played both for Western, I’m going to have to say that although you definitely have to be more technical and mentally ready to play football, rugby is a bit rougher.
In a football game, as a linebacker, you might make five or six solo tackles in a 60-minute game.
In rugby, you could do that in three minutes if you put your mind to it. And I kinda miss having the whole helmet thing, when I put my head into someone
• • •
Q: Not that long ago, you tore your ACL. In high school, you tore the ACL in your other leg. What in the world goes through your head after it happens again, and how does one deal with that?
A: “Oh ****” (laughs). Yeah it sucks, but it’s part of the game.
You can’t expect to stay completely healthy with the amount of punishment you put on your body, and some injuries are worse than others. You just have to be ready, if something does go wrong, to put in the time and effort to come back stronger.
• • •
Q: How often are you back in Guelph and, aside from hanging out with family and friends, what are three must-do things for you upon return?
A: Well whether it’s by choice or not I “must” go visit my mom’s store, Crème Couture, to see how the store’s doing and if I can help out.
Also, dinner at Spice 11 for honestly the best food in town, and finally I’m definitely going to hit up my old gym for a solid bench day . . . the weights just seem lighter back home.
• • •
Q: University athletes spend a lot of time on a bus and in different cities. Can you share a neat or funny “road story” with us?
A: Let’s just say the best road stories can’t be published in this newspaper.
• • •
Q: Where do you see yourself life-wise and sports-wise in, say, seven years?
A: Hopefully using all my schooling and degree to its fullest and being comfortably employed by a marketing firm somewhere.
As for sports, if life doesn’t pull us too far away, I’d love to still be playing club rugby in the summer with all the boys.
• • •
• Band or musician: Calvin Harris
• Actor: Johnny Depp
• Actress: Blake Lively
• TV show: Game of Thrones
• Movie: Predator. “Get to da chopaaa!”
• Food: Steak
• Drink: Milkshake
• Day of the week: Wednesday
• Pro sports franchise: Toronto Raptors
• Sport aside from rugby and football: Champions League soccer