NFL Pro Bowlers Juantavius “JT” Gray and Elgton Jenkins earned a permanent place in the history of the Clarksdale Wildcats football program when their numbers were retired during a ceremony in the high school gym Friday night.
Gray and Jenkins are 2014 Clarksdale High School graduates. Gray’s No. 3 was retired, and Jenkins’ No. 74 was retired. The two were roommates at Mississippi State University and teammates with the Bulldogs before playing in the NFL.
Gray has been a safety and special teams standout with the New Orleans Saints since 2018. He wears No. 48 with the Saints. Jenkins, a left guard, has been with the Green Bay Packers since 2019 and still wears No. 74.
The two hosted their second annual “Backyard Dawgz Football Camp” and a 3-on-3 basketball tournament on Friday, and their numbers were retired following the activities.
“I just want to say thank you. I want to thank God, thank my family, my friends, the coaching staff, and the City of Clarksdale for your support,” Gray said. “I just want to honor the guys that paved the way before us.”
Gray mentioned former NFL players and Clarksdale High School graduates Terrence Metcalf, Mario Haggan, and Trumaine McBride. Metcalf is the current Coahoma Community College head football coach. He also mentioned the late Darren Williams, who appeared to be on his way to the NFL before being killed.
“They gave us this vision when we were young,” Gray said. “They showed us that you can make it out. They showed us an example. They passed the torch on to us.”
Gray said that now he and Jenkins are giving back to the community and showing that it is possible to play in the NFL.
“One quote I want to say is, ‘You can aim for the moon, but if you miss, you can still land among the stars,'” he said.
Gray talked about the importance of learning from failures on the path to success.
“It’s a blessing to be in this position right now,” he said.
Gray thanked the Clarksdale High School Class of 2014 for its support and said his success would not have been possible without his classmates.
Jenkins expressed similar sentiments.
“I appreciate everybody for coming out,” he said. “It’s an honor being from Clarksdale, Miss., the small town. Talking to JT just growing up, we always said the things that we do or don’t, we always wanted to do those things. We just stuck to it. It’s a blessing to be out here in front of you and give back to the community.”
Former Wildcats head coach Henry Johnson reflected on his experiences with Jenkins and Gray.
“From a head coaching standpoint, I’m extremely proud of these young men,” Johnson said. “It was a blessing for me to have an opportunity to coach Big E and JT. They were some phenomenal football players, or they wouldn’t be in the NFL now.
“Just in the hallways, off the field, they did everything they were supposed to do. I didn’t have to run behind these guys. They took care of business. They set themselves up to go to Mississippi State academically, gave themselves an opportunity to get in the league, and they were just great on the field.”
Johnson said that when Jenkins was with the Wildcats, he played offense and defense and could play anywhere. He said Gray was just as good with and without the football on the field.
“We’re just extremely, extremely proud of these young men,” Johnson said. “We wish them the best in the future.”
Athletic director Farrington Hill expressed his appreciation toward Gray and Jenkins.
“It’s just a small gesture to show that we appreciate the contributions that they are making to the Clarksdale athletic program,” said Hill of retiring Gray’s and Jenkins’ numbers. “These guys are truly showing they never forgot where they came from. As long as I have known them, they’ve been two good, humble guys and never got into any trouble. I hope they’re an inspiration to the youth and show that just because Clarksdale is a small little town, you can dream big and make it big.”
Hill thanked Gray’s and Jenkins’ parents for doing a great job of raising young men.
“We definitely want these guys to know we truly appreciate them,” Hill said. “We love them.”
Clarksdale Municipal School District Superintendent Dr. Toya Matthews thanked Gray and Jenkins on behalf of the district and school board. She said they have not forgotten where they came from.
“We are so appreciative of what you have done for our community,” Matthews said. “We cannot say enough. This is, just as Coach Hill said, a small token of appreciation, but the gratitude that we extend to you is beyond measure. Again, thank you.”
CMSD board member Dr. Manika Kemp was the Clarksdale High School principal when Gray and Jenkins were in school.
“This is such a great honor for me because these young men were my students,” she said.
Kemp has fond memories of Gray and Jenkins.
“I was their principal, and they got on my nerves every day,” said Kemp jokingly. “But I knew that they were going to be awesome and amazing. On behalf of the Clarksdale Municipal School Board, we say thank you all. We say thank you for what you’re doing on the field, what you’re doing in your communities, and also what you’re doing here in our district. Again, congratulations and thank you all so much.”