So much for Davon Grayson's quiet freshman season. So much for his coach's intention to shelter him. Grayson's been too good, too productive and too personable to hide.
First college catch? Touchdown. Second catch? End zone again. Four scores on six receptions through two games.
Adjusting to college? Fitting in academically and socially despite a stutter that impedes his speech? Done and done.
Indeed, Grayson, a true freshman receiver from King's Fork High School in Suffolk, has impressed his East Carolina coaches and teammates at every turn.
"Athletically, he was able to adapt to the speed of the game," Pirates head coach Ruffin McNeill said. "We (challenged) him very early in camp. And then maturity wise, (he was) able to handle the offense, concepts, adjustments.
"He's a great, great young man. Besides on the field, Davon's even better off the field, as far as just being the kind of person we want in our program."
Grayson was an honor student at King's Fork, where he also long-jumped and high-jumped. Combine Grayson's grades and athleticism with his 6-foot-2 frame, and you have the makings of a package coaches crave.
But injuries dogged Grayson until his senior football season, prompting schools such as Virginia and Virginia Tech to withhold scholarship offers.
"It meant a lot to me that ECU didn't waste any time," Grayson said prior to a practice for Saturday's game against Tech. "Once they saw I can play, they just said off the jump, 'We have a place for you here on our team.'
"The rest of the big schools were kind of playing around here and there, saying, 'We're going to wait until you get to a certain point of the season, make sure you stay healthy.' It just means a lot to me to show everybody I can play (Division I) football. I think I'm doing pretty good right now, and I can't wait to show the rest of the schools that kind of passed up on me that I'm a guy you wish you'd have (signed)."
Old Dominion wanted to sign Grayson — badly. But Grayson committed to the Pirates in August 2012, choosing them over the Monarchs, Richmond, James Madison and VMI, among others.
Coincidentally, ECU opened this season against ODU, and Grayson's first two receptions resulted in touchdowns of 9 and 6 yards. He added a 1-yard score later that evening, and an 18-yarder last Thursday against Florida Atlantic on … his 18th birthday.
"Coming in at first, I really just wanted to show our coaches that they didn't need to redshirt me," Grayson said. "All I really wanted to show them was that they wanted to have me on the field. Whether that was returning kicks, or punt returns, or being the deep-ball guy.
"One day in camp they called for the first-team guys and Coach called me, and I just kind of looked around and said, 'Are you sure?' After that, that's when I kind of knew, I had no more time to use the excuse, 'I'm just a freshman.' I just had to play, because the teams we're playing don't care that I'm a freshman."
McNeill began sensing that Grayson could contribute immediately during the summer.
"One day the practice fields were closed, and Davon and about four other guys, five other guys … climbed over the fence and starting throwing the football," McNeill said. "Like old-school days. That really impressed me. Two hours on a Saturday. Along with his physical talent, he works very hard."
What impressed McNeill more was Grayson's approach to stuttering. He'd learned to shed his insecurities and ignore the taunts of those too young or ignorant to know better.
McNeill understands the drill all too well, for he also stutters.
"That's one of the first things we talked about, because I understood how as a stutterer, you let them finish a sentence," McNeill said. "You don't cut them off, because he's got a lot of things going through his mind and eventually it will smooth. He'll become even more relaxed and even more fluid in his conversation.
"When I told him that I was a stutterer, am a stutterer, that initial bond was there for us. I love him for him, and I really think that was a connection."
As a veteran coach accustomed to public speaking, McNeill embodies that more relaxed, fluid conversation. Grayson isn't quite there, but he's comfortable enough that McNeill scrapped plans to shield him from interviews.
"He was impressed by the way that I don't let it stop me," Grayson said. "He was impressed with how I just keep talking through it. That's just who I am. It doesn't affect how I play or the kid that I am. It's just something that God gave me that I have to deal with.
"Lots of people think just because I have a speech problem and that I don't say certain words, that I'm not smart. Actually, I'm always paying attention in class, I'm a pretty smart kid. It's just a fact that I really can't stand up in front of the class and present. … That's the only thing I have trouble with. I can read just fine, I just can't really say it out loud. I can interpret. … I've worked hard. It's not easy to me. School is still hard, like it is for every other kid. I'm just like every other guy. I just have a speech problem."
Virginia Tech reserve safety Chuck Clark is Grayson's best friend and a former King's Fork teammate. They met as eighth graders, when Grayson moved to Suffolk from Virginia Beach, and Grayson's stutter was far more pronounced.
"It was an obstacle," Clark said, "and I'm sure he's overcome a lot. … It's very rare now. I don't even pay it any mind."
The only time King's Fork coach Joe Jones recalls the stutter as an issue was when Grayson played some quarterback in middle school and struggled to call plays in the huddle. But receiver clearly was his best position.
A former Virginia Tech tight end, Jones installed a play-action pass a few seasons back and, not thinking about Grayson, called it a "stutter route" for the pause the receiver makes.
"They named it for you!" teammates joked.
"He took it all in stride," Jones said. "He threw stuff right back at 'em. It's never been an issue with him. … It doesn't seem to bother him a bit. He just rolls right on with whatever he's talking about."
Without a trace of irony, ECU quarterback Shane Carden cited Grayson's verbal skills as a reason for his rapid emergence.
"He came in, and the guys starting seeing the plays he was making during camp, and it's kind of like, 'Who is this kid?'" Carden said. "He didn't act like a freshman. He came in very confident, picked up the offense very quickly. …
"I don't think he was in much of a shell when he got here. He's not the most talkative guy, but he's definitely not shy by any means. If anything's (happening) on the field, he'll come up and ask on the sidelines. … I think that's why he's playing for us, because he wasn't shy about asking questions. He wasn't shy about going out and attacking the ball against our defense in camp. He's not the loudest guy, but he's loud with how he plays."
Grayson starts at the Pirates' "X" outside receiver and is the team's lone freshman starter, true or redshirt. His combined six receptions in victories over ODU and Florida Atlantic gained a modest 57 yards, but his four touchdown catches share the national lead.
"Once the ball is in the air," Grayson said, "instincts take over. I really didn't have a high jump coach or a long jump coach. Everything I did, I just kind of went out and did it. Really, I haven't had the chance to show everybody everything that I can do just yet, so I'm excited to show everybody just how high I can jump and all that type of good stuff. It'll all come at some point."
Such patience is too uncommon among the young, or old for that matter. But Grayson learned his at an early age, when the words didn't flow.
"I definitely had to learn how to just roll with it," he said. "I definitely had to learn how to hear what everyone says and get used to it. As a kid, I used to get into lots of fights. You're just young. Everyone wants to joke on you."
Grayson's faith — his Twitter handle is "DavonTheBlessed" — helped him persevere.
"It just helped me learn, you can't listen to what the crowd has to say," he said. "Focus on what you can control and let God take care of everything else."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun