CAMBRIDGE, Mass.--Even when he was being wooed by the University of Virginia, the Citadel, the University of South Carolina and other big-time football schools, Robert Bradley Gray felt he was destined to attend MIT. He'd known it since seventh grade.
When he was 12 years old, Brad saw the MIT mechanical engineering design contest on public television in his hometown of Columbia, SC. "They were building things and getting toï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½play with them," he recalled. "What could be more fun?" He asked his father, an engineer who'd attended the University of Louisville, what he knew about MIT. "If you want to be an engineer, that's the place to go," his dad said.
A chemical engineering major, Brad graduates Friday with a perfect 5.0 GPA for his four-year MIT career. "There were times when I wasn't sure it would survive the last football season," he said. "I was bleary-eyed for lots of practices after pulling an all-nighter."
Brad, a 6-foot-3, 245-pound defensive tackle, completed his fourth season of varsity football at MIT with a flourish, leading the team in tackles and being named an Academic All-American for the second consecutive year.
The decision to attend MIT is as sound now as it was when he made it, perhaps even sounder. He may never have played in a Bowl game, but he has helped develop drugs ranging from cancer therapies to vaccines and hopes to start a pharmaceutical company some day. "My decision to pass up a career in big-time football surprised almost everyone in my community,"ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½he said. "But though many of my close friends did not understand my decision, I knew I followed my heart."
A Marshall scholar, Brad won the Division III National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame Scholar Athlete of the Year award ($18,000 toward graduate school and a $25,000 donation to the MIT General Scholarship Fund) and the Burger King College Football Scholarship (worth $10,000 to MIT).
As a Scholar Athlete winner, Brad was one of four finalists for the Burger King Vincent DePaul Draddy Award, known as the Academic Heisman. The winner was University of Tennessee quarterback Peyton Manning, the top pick in the National Football League draft. "He seemed like a very down-to-earth guy," Brad said, even if Manning is on his way to multi-million-dollar security while Brad is headed to the United Kingdom to study economics and management at Oxford,ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½perhaps play rugby, and keep track of his peers in the NFL. "I played against Pete Bouleware (Baltimore Ravens linebacker) in high school and I held my own," Brad recalled. "We both threw the discus. I was better."
Other Scholar Athlete award winners came from the University of Nebraska, Florida State, Penn State, Stanford, the University of Virginia and other Division I powers. Much of the talk at the awards ceremonies revolved around agents, NFL prospects, sneaker contracts, fame and especially fortune. "I was the novelty," Brad said. "They wondered how you could play football without spring practice. They couldn't believe we didn't have a full-time weight(lifting) program. Things like that."
As the first varsity football player to compete on the science team at Irmo High School in Columbia, SC, he'd been considered a novelty before. "We joked that I was not really a member of the team, but a 'roadie' who helped carry luggage and books during competition on the road," he said. "I loved the role I played and I always made a point of wearing football T-shirts to science competitions and science team 'nerd shirts' under my football pads. The puzzled looks and snide comments I received only encouraged my crusade to prevent people from labeling me either a jock or a bookworm."
He is proud that his football days ended on a positive note with a 5-4 record, the first winning season in his MIT career. Unlike many high school peers, he never dreamed of the NFL, perhaps because his family did not emphasize athletics and he never considered athletes as role models. "To me, football is just a game," said Brad. "In a lot of ways, it's a childish game. You have toï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½outgrow all that rage and hurting other people."