They were mainstays on their sides of the ball during the past two seasons as the Denison Yellow Jackets produced back-to-back playoff berths for the first time in nearly a decade.
D.J. Gray’s ability as a receiver and a blocker was a valuable commodity to the offense.
Ty McFail’s versatility put him in advantageous positions all across the defense.
The duo put a cap on their high school careers as McFail signed to play for Eastern New Mexico University and Gray signed to play for Southeastern Oklahoma State on Wednesday morning.
McFail chose the Division II program in Portales, N.M. over East Texas Baptist and Southern Nazarene.
“The class that’s going to be there, I felt like I could connect with them. I’m excited to start my college career,” McFail said. “Distance is not a problem for me. I was looking at the University of Colorado just as a regular student.”
Last season McFail was a second-team all-district selection after totaling 60 tackles, four for a loss, with two forced fumbles, a fumble recovery that he returned for a touchdown and three pass break-ups.
As a senior he produced 106 tackles, (72 solo) with eight pass breakups, an interception, a forced fumble and two fumble recoveries and was a first-team all-district safety. He also made an impact on offense for the first time and ran 71 times for 586 yards and six touchdowns and caught a 22-yard TD pass.
His 38-yard interception return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter against Abilene Wylie broke a tie game and ultimately provided the deciding points. He had two touchdowns in the season-opening victory against Trinity Christian-Addison, including the only catch of his career — the 22-yard touchdown on fourth down no less — and the game-winning touchdown with just under two minutes left. And in a victory against Sherman that gave Denison its record fifth straight win in the series, McFail had three touchdown runs in the final two minutes of the third quarter to break open the 49-24 victory.
Eastern New Mexico went 8-2 this past season and was third in the Lone Star Conference, behind Midwestern State, which made the second round of the playoffs, and national champion Texas A&M-Commerce. It was the most wins for the program since 2002 and the Greyhounds haven’t had a losing record since 2012, when it had to vacate all victories from the season.
“Pretty much after the season, I started getting emails and it was trying to set things up with coaches,” McFail said. “Winning’s not everything but it’s not fun losing. It was a factor in it.”
Gray, whose brother Qua’Shawn is a redshirt junior defensive back for GAC opponent Northwestern Oklahoma State, picked the Savage Storm over Northwestern Oklahoma State.
“Things just didn’t work out there. I love football and I knew I was going to find somewhere to keep playing,” he said. “Before I went on the Southeastern visit, I wasn’t planning on signing. The coaches, I could tell they cared for their athletes. It just felt right for me.”
He also talked to his brother a lot about the process.
“He gave me a bunch of advice,” Gray said. “He’s a big support system in my life.”
After transferring from S&S after his sophomore year, Gray jumped right into the Denison lineup as a tight end and h-back.
As a junior he totaled 10 catches for 108 yards and a touchdown and then finished with 17 catches for 231 yards and five touchdowns as a senior, including a pair of touchdowns in the Yellow Jackets’ bi-district loss against Saginaw Boswell, and was selected second-team all-district. His 27 career catches fell just short of the top 25 list in school history.
Gray will be the fourth Yellow Jacket on the Southeastern roster, joining junior receiver Devon Blanton, redshirt sophomore Devin Mitchell and sophomore Taivian Rucker.
“They told me it’s going to be hard but it’s going to be worth it. I want to be a part of that,” Gray said. “I’m hoping to keep playing tight end. I like catching the ball.”
Southeastern Oklahoma State went 7-4 last season with all of those games being in the Great American Conference and tying the Storm for fourth in the league standings.
It was the second straight 7-4 campaign for SOSU and the fourth consecutive winning season for the program. Southeastern has 13 conference titles in its history, including four straight from 2004-07.
The Storm continue to add local talent. In addition to Gray, Howe’s Clay Marshall Van Alstyne’s Cayson Miller, Bells’ Hunter Hawthorne and Collinsville’s Blake Williams are a part of this year’s signing class and join holdovers Lane Isom of Bells, Sherman’s Jonathan Torres, Ty Agan of Blue Ridge and Bonham’s Xzavion Epps.