FRANKLIN, Tenn. — Max Wray just already seems so Georgia.
He’s from the Nashville Metro area so the nod to that country hit still fits a guy who’d rather have a rap track from Young Thug blaring from his earbuds.
When Wray got his first dog, his family placed a Georgia collar on it a day later.
The junior offensive tackle has tossed all the non-Georgia team gear from his closet. He’s put in a standing request with his head coach at Franklin High School that he’d rather not meet any more coaches trying to recruit him.
The 6-foot-6, 280-pounder also deemed it vital to start recruiting the nation’s top prospect in his signing class to come join him. Those are all things a Georgia guy does. Even two years before he enrolls in Athens.
Wray went from unknown-to-a-next-big-thing to a commit in a few months this winter. The nation’s No. 63 overall prospect for 2018 didn’t shop around for long.
Georgia offered in January. Wray was committed by April in the spring of his sophomore year.
The junior offensive tackle found what he wanted in Athens. When he did, he was done. LSU and Vanderbilt offered first, but Georgia got him.
Committed meant exactly that. The 6-foot-6, 280-pounder unfollowed the coaches that had been wooing him on Twitter. That was their only outlet to a prospect in the Class of 2018.
He was so Georgia. He didn’t need them.
“There’s really not an opening in my recruitment,” Wray said. “I’m not going to go anywhere else. I’m not going to talk to other coaches. Georgia is all that is on my mind.”
He gave all those non-Georgia shirts to his younger brother. Jake, a freshman offensive lineman, is already 6-foot-5 and 300 pounds in his own right. He’s another nasty tackle, too.
Max Wray held that block even when Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin visited Franklin High this spring. He made sure his coach knew he wasn’t even interested in mighty Alabama.
When Kiffin heard that, he still offered. Kiffin told Franklin head coach Donnie Webb the Tide still would recruit him. Wray had already told Webb he didn’t want to be around the office on days when college coaches might be stopping by.
That’s as committed as it gets.
The Wray family found a recipe to build the next great offensive tackle on the way to Georgia. Take some spectacular genetics, add a little Jon Snow fight and Mace Windu perspective, sprinkle in some uncommon maturity and then load the young fella up with Dutch Babies.
What the heck is a “Dutch Baby?” We will surely get to those.
An even better story
The fact he’s done with his recruiting is uncommon for an out-of-state player of his caliber. That will sit well with Georgia fans, but the most impressive thing about him would be his massive personal and physical growth.
When checking out the family photos for his sixth-grade year, Wray is about a foot shorter than he is now. He grew nine inches in middle school. He was 6 feet, 4 inches tall when he started high school.
Wray shot up six inches in about 18 months.
“Middle school was a bit of a hot mess because he just kept growing and really stretched out,” his mother Stacy Wray said. “We used to call him ‘Stretch’ because he was growing so fast.”
He stood 6 feet, 2 inches tall in August of his eighth-grade year. That was after sprouting up four inches since December. That’s when he shot past his 5-foot-11 mother. It was one of many “Holey Moley” moments for her.
“I remember going to the doctor’s office that year thinking “Dang, that’s a lot’ and then by December he’d grown another inch and a half. Then he was already almost at 6-foot-4 and three-quarters by March. He was growing an inch or another inch and a half every couple of months.”
Wray shot up so fast in 2014 his limbs held their own silent protest. He had aches and joint pain. He had knee surgery to repair his patella tendon that spring. It confined him to a wheelchair for two weeks and then he went on crutches.
That surgery wiped away most of his freshman football season. The lost football season was a moment for personal growth. Even when he was just on one crutch. Wray was “The Cellphone guy.” He carried the cell phones of all the players in his backpack on the sideline at games.
His family describes that year with these terms: Tall. Skinny. Awkward. Max was mending and growing at the same time, but he never missed a practice.
“It showed me you can’t take playing in one game for granted,” Max Wray said. “Every game should seem special.”
Now he’s an offensive tackle prototype who will likely guard the back of a future millionaire NFL quarterback or two in Athens. His loved ones shake their heads at that contrast.
Then they count up every blessing.
“That’s where Max learned how to be faithful,” his father Sam Wray said. “He learned how to work and rehab to get back. He learned how to really get tough. He had to do stuff other eighth-graders didn’t have to do.”
This was massive personal growth.
“God used it to shape his character,” Stacy Wray said. “If you can stay faithful when there is really no glory in it, then you can stay really faithful when good stuff might be coming your way.”
A real-life growth chart
Wray is a proud owner of a dog that looks more Athens than the blue-tick hound preferred by the in-state Volunteers. The Georgia collar, a must addition, adds to that image. But the name “Beast” also fit his first dog, too.
The bigger parallel is he’s already a member of Georgia line coach Sam Pittman’s massive human being club. Wray has been measured with a wingspan of 84 inches. That’s an NBA lottery pick at center across his reach and he’s already taller than the trophy cases at his high school.
Wray, now closing in on the 6-foot-7 mark, has an in-house growth chart with marks of distinction. It is a slice of Americana for a family that has moved from Oregon to Colorado to Tennessee in his youth.
That center of their home connects the living room to their kitchen. The notches on a corridor tell a story. His father grew up in a big family in Oregon. There was a growth chart in his aunt’s house. He’s done that in every house he’s lived in since.
“Sam’s pretty cheesy now,” Stacy Wray said, laughing. “He probably made us all do it together when we moved in. I have one notch. Sam has one notch. The rest are pretty much the boys.”
But being tall wasn’t enough. Wray needed to look like a rhino. Not a gazelle. So his mother started “stretching out his stomach.” Max had a goal to put on 40 pounds in the summer before his sophomore season.
It meant a second supper every night of those “Dutch Babies.”
“I cooked them every morning for two months and made him eat them at nine o’clock before he went to sleep,” Stacey Wray said. “That’s five eggs, a cup of milk and a cup of flour. You blend it together in a lasagna pan with a stick of butter. It is a pastry so you put powdered sugar on top. I made him eat a lasagna pan of them every night before he went to bed.”
Wray packed those 30 pounds on in early 2015. That’s a far cry from looking like a stork when he played linebacker in the eighth grade. All limbs and legs. He had good feet at the outset and yet shifted went from quarterback to safety. He was a tight end and a middle linebacker in middle school but kept growing out of every other position fit on the field.
“I was leaning up against the fence and I told his Dad when he comes to me we’re going to put his hand on the ground and he’s going to sign a scholarship,” Franklin coach Donnie Webb said.
Wray called the line an initial “transition” because he wasn’t very good at it from the outset. He had to work at it. Webb really can’t believe how everything — just like Max — shot up so fast with his recruiting. National Playmakers Academy, a football skills group based out of Nashville, taught Max how to be a tackle during the off-season.
He had the feet and size coming out of everywhere. Wray was also a worker. It was going to come given the impeccable training he was getting at NPA.
“I always used to say the Max Wray story is going to be an unbelievable story and it still is,” Webb said. “It just happened faster than I expected it to happen.”
Wray measured 6 feet, 6 inches in December of 2015. When he visited Georgia in March, he had added another half-inch to that.
When he committed in April, there was a lot made about Georgia pulling him out of Tennessee. But it wasn’t that big of an upset. The Volunteers weren’t sure if he was a guard or a tackle.
Georgia and Pittman were sure about him at tackle. The Bulldogs also ran the pro-style offense he preferred. He wanted to study kinesiology and physical therapy and they had that in Athens. The University of Tennessee did not.
Wray also has a lot of family in Georgia. His aunt and uncle live in Woodstock. His great-grandfather lives in Duluth. A grandmother lives in Decatur. Wray’s great grandfather was a General Motors employee who retired in Doraville. Another uncle graduated from Georgia.
A chat with Georgia strength coach Scott Sinclair made a big dent. Wray bought into his philosophy. Then he spoke to the Georgia training staff on a winter visit.
“After that I walked past my Dad and nonchalantly said ‘This is it’ and I don’t know if he heard me or not but I said it,” Max Wray said.
His 6-foot-7 father, sure did.
“I heard it,” Sam Wray said. “There was a vibe we felt when we went down for the Junior Day and I had to bite my tongue because I felt like it was the place for him immediately. But I didn’t want to be an overbearing father so I squashed that.”
Those form up the puzzle, but Pittman was at the center.
“I love Coach Pittman,” Max Wray said. “He’s a great guy. I wouldn’t be at Georgia and have committed so early if he wasn’t there,” Max Wray said. “His wife has also told me they are not moving anymore so they are at Georgia for the long haul.”
Wray quickly became one of Georgia’s recruiting ambassadors. He made a point to take visits with 5-star junior QB Trevor Lawrence when he could. He knows Lawrence means a great deal to Georgia signing the nation’s No. 1 class in 2018.
There’s a text message chat for the 2017 commitments. Wray is waiting to build one for his class in 2018, but Rome linebacker Adam Anderson is the only other commitment.
Grown man stuff
“When he started talking about the idea of committing to Georgia I was definitely nervous,” Stacy Wray said. “Because I felt like he is pretty young and that is a big decision. I told him that I support him making a big decision like that as a young man. But I wanted to hear why because I told him he didn’t have to make that decision right now. He’s young. He has a lot of time.”
“I already know,” Max Wray told his mother.
Then he convinced her by sharing what he had been learning between those inches and marks on the family growth chart. He gained perspective on what he wanted for his life.
“He told me recruiting was such a distraction and he wanted to focus on Franklin (County) football and stay focused on school,” Stacy Wray said. “He knew he wanted to recruit for Georgia much less go there. It was very mature. I also said it was a little idealistic and told him to think about it. He can’t be one of those people who gives a yes and turns around and gives a no. His yes had to mean yes and he had to understand committing to Georgia meant being faithful. Don’t play around with a school. Let your actions support those idealistic words.”
They came up with a moment in the realm of incredible parenting: OK, big fella. Do you want to commit? Show us that you saying yes really means heck yes.
“Every time he finds a new level,” Stacy Wray said. “He’s really digging in and Sam and I look at each other and think ‘Wow, that’s awesome. I’m not even sure I would have thought of that’ and it is really coming from his heart and it is really neat to see we are being blessed watching him walk this out. This is all happening organically.”
Wray looked Coach Webb in the eye and said that was how it was going to be right before he chose Georgia. It would enable him to focus on Franklin football.
“He’s done exactly that,” Webb said. “He’s a real special kid and comes from a great family. You can see that. I believe him when he says that Franklin football comes first.”
Wray was at G-Day this spring. It gave him time for pause. He wasn’t a known recruit a year ago, but he got stopped at a gas station about 20 miles outside of Athens on that trip. A random stranger came up to him and thanked him for his commitment.
It took a lot of “Dutch Babies” for him to reach that point. So far. So fast.
“It is crazy how blessed I am,” May Wray said. “There has been a moment in my mind since my first offer. I can’t express how thankful I am to everybody who has believed in me. My parents and the genes I got from my Mom and Dad. Everybody that has been coaching me and helping me out. It is just a big blessing. There’s just no other way to say it.”
And he believes in the future of Georgia football. Fully.
“I feel like we have a chance to win a national championship here pretty soon over the next couple of years,” Max Wray said.
Follow Jeff Sentell on Twitter for the latest on who’s on their way to play Between the Hedges. Unless otherwise indicated, player rankings and ratings are from the 247Sports Composite.