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Scanning Nebraska’s 2008 football recruiting class, running back Jonas Gray of suburban Detroit sees much promise, particularly on his side of the line.

“The thing that definitely impresses me is the o-line class,” Gray said. “That was the biggest thing to me, and also having Blaine Gabbert in there.”

Nebraska to this point has attracted verbal commitments for 2008 from a pair of four-star offensive linemen (Bryce Givens and Dan Hoch) and another with the maximum five stars next to his name (Baker Steinkuhler of Lincoln). The class also features a pledge from one of the nation’s top quarterback prospects in Gabbert.

Friday, Gray entered the picture.

Saying Nebraska’s glorious football tradition played a prominent part in his decision, the 5-foot-10, 215-pound Gray gave the Huskers his verbal commitment, announcing the decision before about 50 people in Country Day High School’s commons area.

Rated by Rivals.com as the nation’s No. 4 running back and No. 10 by Scout.com, Gray narrowed his final list to Michigan State and Nebraska. He received scholarship offers from several other schools, including Michigan, Florida, Louisville, Minnesota and Wisconsin.

“Just the overall tradition of winning on and off the field — the excellence and tradition were my main reasons for choosing Nebraska,” Gray said. “Also, when I went there (to Nebraska last month), I just kind of got a gut feeling. I was looking for that gut feeling every place I went to.

“I said if I got that gut feeling, I would probably cut my decision early. I heard from many recruits that once you go to Nebraska, it is not like no other place, and they were exactly right.”

Gray said he didn’t feel pressure to attend Michigan or Michigan State.

However, “There were definitely a lot of people who wanted that to happen, just to be able to see me play,” he said.

Ranked by Rivals.com as the No. 1 prospect in Michigan, Gray helped lead Country Day to an 8-3 record last season by rushing for 1,252 yards and 19 touchdowns. In nine games as a sophomore, Gray ran for 797 yards and 15 touchdowns.

Rivals.com rates him as the nation’s No. 47 prospect overall, and the two major recruiting services both made him a four-star prospect. He reportedly has run the 40-yard dash in 4.44 seconds.

“Jonas has a unique combination — speed and power,” said Country Day coach Dan MacLean. “He’s strong and well-built. And to this point, he hasn’t done a ton of weightlifting, so he can get even stronger. He can break tackles, get into the second level (of the defense) and go the distance. He has sprinter’s speed.”

Said Gray: “I have a lot of explosion and a lot of speed and also a lot of toughness. It’s definitely what these guys need, a little bit of toughness and explosion and excitement as well.”

This season, Nebraska will be led at I-back by juniors Marlon Lucky and Cody Glenn. Senior Kenny Wilson, part of a four-man rotation last season, will sit out this season with a leg injury, but plans to redshirt and hopes to return in 2008. Also in the current mix is sophomore Major Culbert, a converted safety, plus true freshmen Marcus Mendoza, Quentin Castille and Roy Helu.

Collins Okafor, a three-star recruit from Omaha Westside, is the only other running back who has pledged to Nebraska’s class of 2008.

“I think I’ll come in and compete for the starting job,” Gray said. “My freshman year, if I don’t win the starting job, it’ll be great to learn under somebody like Cody Glenn or Marlon Lucky, and then eventually try to take over the starting spot as a sophomore and have three great years.”

Gray leaned toward Florida early in the recruiting process. Later on, however, Michigan State moved to the forefront. But Nebraska ultimately prevailed in picking up Gray’s verbal commitment. Such commitments become binding when recruits sign national letters of intent in February.

Outside linebacker Kenny Demens, a four-star teammate of Gray’s at Country Day, also has Nebraska on his final list of schools. As Gray was making his announcement Friday, Demens was visiting the Michigan campus.

“I’m going to work on him,” Gray said. “I’ll make sure I get him on my team.”

Gray became the 20th player known to have committed to Nebraska’s class of 2008.

Reach Steven M. Sipple at 473-7440 or ssipple@journalstar.com.

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