Cyril Grayson Sprints Into the Unknown
On Monday afternoon, a single line of text came across the waiver wire on an otherwise uneventful NFL offseason day. The Seahawks signed a 23-year-old wide receiver from LSU. The news went uncelebrated save in a small pocket of Louisiana where folks did not see this coming, and by the man who made it happen through persistence and blind faith.
Behold, a life-changing 72 hours for Cyril Grayson.
The first thing to know about Grayson is that he never actually played receiver at LSU or any other college. He was an All-America sprinter for the Tigers who had worked out with the LSU football team for a spell, and he lobbied hard for a chance to participate in the Tigers’ pro day—multiple phone calls, emails and unannounced visits to the facility. At first the football staffers were uninterested, Grayson says, then they relented.
Grayson had been training for months for the opportunity, working on football-specific drills. He dumped what was left of his $6,300 track-and-field scholarship stipend—after rent and food—into his training. A longtime mentor donated training services. (Grayson vows to pay him back.) A kinesiology major, Grayson had put off looking into physical therapy masters programs before May graduation. He convinced himself his life would change on April 5. He told his roommate they would celebrate in advance with dinner at Roux 61 Seafood and Grill in Baton Rouge.
Then he got a call. Seahawks national college scout Ed Dodds saw Grayson’s name on the list and, intrigued, phoned Grayson on the eve of the April 5 workout.
“We talked for a while,” Grayson says. “He got a lot of info on me my family, my background. Have you ever been in trouble? What do your parents do? Stuff like that. Then he said, what are you doing at 6 pm? Come eat with me at Roux 61.”
The place he’d been planning to go to anyway? Grayson saw it as serendipity. “I was like, look at God, man,” he says. “Things are working out for me.”
The son of a pastor and a plastics plant worker sat down with the Seattle scout who’d done the legwork in 2015 on Frank Clark, the team’s controversial 2015 second-rounder. First on the menu for Grayson that night: Why didn’t you play college football?
Grayson hasn’t played organized football since 2011, when he caught 28 passes for 731 yards as a senior at Archbishop Rummel High in Kenner, La. In high school he didn't attend any combines or local football camps because, he says, he didn’t know any better. He got a football offer from Northwestern State and several other FCS schools, but the real college interest came from track programs: Grayson was the Class 5-A state champ in both the 400 meters and the 800 meters as a senior. On his official visit to LSU, the 5'9" Grayson says he was told he’d be able to play football—his true love—in addition to running track.
“I took that at face value,” Grayson says. “I didn’t really know the rules.”
After earning All-America honors twice as a freshman on LSU’s 4x400-meter relay team, he visited the football offices, which referred him to compliance. NCAA rules state that if an athlete is signed to a scholarship for a minor sport such as wrestling or track and field, he’d have to drop his scholarship or sit out two years before playing football. The rule is meant to prevent football teams from stashing recruits on the roster of other programs to field more scholarship athletes than what is allotted.
“I was young and didn’t know what I wanted to do,” Grayson says. “I told coach I was track 100%.”
Grayson finished his track career as a seven-time All-America and a four-time NCAA champion on the outdoor and indoor 4x400 relay teams. After his fourth year he asked his parents if he could drop his scholarship and play football as a fifth-year senior while completing the coursework for his degree. They agreed to scrape together the cash. He worked out with the football team last summer, then compliance stepped in again—because Grayson had been on scholarship before, he would still count against football’s numbers. And football had already assigned all of its scholarships.
So the LSU pro day would be his last chance to fulfill a dream.
At dinner on the eve of the event, Dodds told him he didn’t know if Seattle would have any interest, but he wanted to be first in line if things went well. “I don’t know what you’re going to do tomorrow,” Dodds said, “but I wanted to be the first to meet you.”
Then Grayson ran a 4.33 40-yard dash, and broad-jumped 10'7", and people started talking. Who is this kid? Is he draft eligible? (As a fifth-year senior who didn’t play football, he would be free to sign with a team without going through the draft.) The Rams scout in attendance told Grayson not to go anywhere afterward, because he needed to chat. Then Grayson ran routes with former LSU quarterback Matt Flynn tossing passes.
“I didn’t drop a ball,” Grayson says.
He looked fluid, practiced. His plant foot slipped on a 12-yard curl, and when he recovered, the ball was zooming high above his head, and his eye caught one of the indoor lights everyone was complaining about during the pro day. He still caught the pass.
“I really just had to catch everything,” Grayson says.
Dodds got on the phone with a boss and said he needed a round-trip ticket to Seattle for Cyril Grayson out of New Orleans. He found Grayson after he’d finished running routes and said, Don’t make plans for tomorrow. I just called our guy, he’s booking your flight, you’re coming to Seattle tomorrow. Grayson notified an agent who was a friend of a friend and said he was looking for representation. The agent, New York City-based Jelani Roy, dug through Google results and turned up one clip of Grayson catching passes in high school. Good enough.
Grayson went home to mom and dad in Kenner and made a beeline for his family’s church: “I said, man, this was a good day, so I need to go and praise the Lord a little bit. Because without Him, none of this would’ve been possible!”
On Thursday morning he took a 3:19 pm United flight out of Louis Armstrong International Airport with two changes of clothes and precisely $34 in his checking account, connecting in Texas and landing in Seattle at 8:23 pm Pacific. He wondered how he’d eat for the next 24 hours—then a Seahawks staffer told him he could spend up to $100 on room service.
“I ate good that night,” Grayson says.
On Friday, the Seahawks chauffeured him to MRIs, physicals and X-Rays, then to their facility, where Grayson caught his first stunning glimpse of Lake Washington from the practice field and the offices on the northwest side of the building. When Dodds had asked him what he liked to do in his spare time, he said he liked to train, and he liked to soak up nature. He’d been spellbound with every visit to scenic Eugene, Ore., for the track and field nationals.
“I like to sky-watch, go fishing. Sit out in nature and just watch,” he says.
The medicals came back clean. Four years of track do the body good. The Seahawks offered him a job. He called the agent, Roy, who told him to print out representation papers, fill them out, scan them and email them back. The agent called several other teams who had shown interest and told them what Seattle was offering. It was fair, they said, and probably what they’d offer too.
Grayson sat in an office with football operations coordinator Matt Capurro with an NFL contract in front of him, but he didn’t sign it. First he had to call his mom, dad and three sisters and conference them in. On speakerphone, he told them he was about to be a Seattle Seahawk. They cheered wildly.
“I wanted to get everybody on the phone," Grayson says. "I wanted them to feel like they were there with me. I said, ‘Well, family, I’m sitting here in the Seahawks’ office and I’m gonna be a part of the 12th man.’ And they were overjoyed. Just to have this opportunity is like, wow.”
At 7:06 p.m. PT on Friday in Renton, Wa., Grayson signed on the dotted line, 75 hours and six minutes after sitting down for a meal in Baton Rouge with Ed Dodds, the scout who does his homework. (A day later Grayson broke the news to a Falcons scout who called his cell phone. When the scout offered his congratulations, Grayson told him, “Y’all got Julio and Sanu—you don’t need me!”)
Before his parents let Grayson off the phone on Friday, they reminded him he still needed to graduate on May 12. There remains some question as to whether he’s fulfilled his internship hours. “Of course they said, Boy, you still gonna graduate now!” Grayson says. “I need to talk to some professors and make sure that happens.”
He’d worked part-time in the fall with Baton Rouge Physical Therapy, and he’d fallen in love with the job and resolved to make a career of it one day. “Those people are amazing,” he says. “Everybody from the CEO on down. They only hire the best people. It might be the best place to work in Louisiana.” But he didn’t look at graduate schools because he didn’t want to give himself an out. He wanted all the eggs in one basket. He wanted no option to fail.
“There were people telling my friends, Why aren’t you telling Cyril to quit wasting his time training for football?,” Grayson says. “But the Lord says, I’m going to give you the desire of your heart. I don’t believe he would give me that dream without fulfilling it. I trusted the process.
“If I wake up and I’m 60 years old and I didn’t go after the NFL, that would be the greatest regret for my whole life. Whatever your dream is, go after it.”
These are the offseason stories you never hear about, because more often than not a scout’s intuition comes up dry, and wide receivers become physical therapists and working Joes like the rest of us. Like Dodds, I don’t know what Cyril Grayson is going to do, and he’s got a long road ahead to make the Seahawks’ 53-man roster. But I wanted you to have the chance to meet him.
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