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2023 Spring Football

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Jalin Hyatt, Eric Gray happy to be sharing field again


EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Two of the Giants' seven draft choices were offensive ballhandlers who know each other well and are excited to be together again.

Wide receiver Jalin Hyatt, selected in the third round, and running back Eric Gray – the team's next choice, though it was 99 picks later, in the fifth round - were teammates at the University of Tennessee in 2020, when the former was a freshman and the latter a sophomore. They remained friends and followed each other's exploits after Gray transferred to Oklahoma for his final two collegiate seasons. Now they're teammates again on the Giants.

"Man, he's a good dude," Hyatt said Saturday after the Giants' second rookie minicamp practice. "When I came in as a freshman, he was there and showed me the way around the facility. I'm good friends with him. I met him through the process of everything when I was there with (then coach Jeremy) Pruitt (a Giants assistant coach in 2021). When he left, I was sad. But now he's one of my best friends. We're very close."

The players' careers had similar arcs after Gray left Knoxville and became a Sooner.

In their first season apart in 2021, Hyatt caught 21 passes for 266 yards and two touchdowns. Gray had 23 receptions for 229 yards and two scores and rushed for a career-low 412 yards on 78 carries, two of them touchdowns.

Last year, each was a collegiate star. Hyatt was a unanimous first-team All-America and won the Biletnikoff Award as the nation's finest wide receiver after catching 67 passes for 1,267 yards – an 18.9-yard average - and a school-record 15 touchdowns. Gray rushed for 1,366 yards on 213 carries - a Big 12-best 6.4 yards a carry - and scored 11 touchdowns, and again finished with 229 receiving yards, this time on 33 catches.

Gray said Hyatt's speed is what makes him stand out "100 percent."

"When he came in as a freshman that's what you knew - as soon as first workout, his speed," Gray said. "His speed is what he's good at; that's his strength. His speed, so definitely noticed that from the first day."

Hyatt offered a similar scouting report on Gray.

"When he gets the ball in his hands, he's electric," Hyatt said. "He can make people miss. That's his best attribute. I really believe that's what he's going to do here."

Get your first look at the newest Giants as they hit the practice field at rookie minicamp.

Hyatt was at his best in Tennessee's 52-49 victory against then No. 3 Alabama last Oct. 15, when he gained 207 yards on six receptions – five of them touchdowns on catches of 78, 36, 11, 60 and 13 yards.

That game started 3½ hours after Oklahoma's victory against Kansas – ironically by 52-42 score – which gave a Tennessee fan in Norman, Okla. an opportunity to watch the game.

"Me and my whole family watched that entire game, and I was rooting for him," Gray said. "I was rooting for him the whole way. I had a lot of teammates that I played with that were still on that team, so I was happy for him.

 "(Hyatt was) unbelievable. I was watching it live, so I was like, 'Jalin is doing his thing tonight.'"

Hyatt was just as dedicated in following Gray.

"I was always watching Oklahoma, his games, making sure he was doing what he had to do," he said. "He's a great talent, great athlete and I'm excited he's here. I'm proud of what he's done, and I'm excited to see his future.

In their one season together at Tennessee, Gray had 1,026 combined rushing and receiving yards, led the team in rushing in seven of his nine games and scored six touchdowns, while Hyatt caught 20 passes for 276 yards and two scores. After two years apart, they again wear the same uniform.

"It's great, just having someone you come in with at Tennessee and seeing the development and seeing him here, it's really big," Hyatt said. "Not only that, it makes it easier for me, getting around here, learning my new teammates and having him here."

Gray hoped to be selected earlier in the draft than the fifth round, but now that he's in camp it's no longer relevant that was the 172nd overall selection.

"I'm just looking at my opportunity here," he said. "My opportunity, I'm here now. First day, second day, third day (of the draft), that's all out of the window. I'm here now. I got a chance to be in a special place like this, so I'm happy about it."

*Center John Michael Schmitz, the Giants' second-round selection, on Friday met Dexter Lawrence, the second-team All-Pro defensive tackle who was in town to sign his four-year contract extension. They will certainly go one-on-one in training camp drills.

"Looking to just continue to get better each and every day against him," Schmitz said. "Being able to compete against one of the best there is. Tremendous opportunity to have that.

"He's a great player. Great player, tremendous person, and can't wait to grow closer with him and compete."

*Defensive tackle Jordon Riley, the first of the Giants' two seventh-round draft choices, had quite a journey to the NFL, playing at four different schools – North Carolina, Garden City Community College in Kansas, Nebraska, and Oregon.

"Words can't describe it," he said. "I came a long way. This was just a blessing to be in this building. I come from a small town in Durham, North Carolina. Opportunities like this are slim. I really think it's a blessing, and I'm just glad to be here. With all the stops, I just think I fell in the right place here in New York. I'm just blessed to be able to be in this great tradition, great building."

*Hyatt and Gray are among the numerous contenders to return punts for the Giants this year.

"We'll put as many guys back there as we can to figure that one out," coach Brian Daboll said.

"But again, it's a ways away."

View photos of the locker room and the 2023 class getting fitted for equipment ahead of rookie minicamp.


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