Prep Signing: Gragg to be a defensive back at Wingate
By Ronnie Gallagher
CHINA GROVE — How talented is Carson’s Ben Gragg?
His coach, Mark Woody, thinks he can be a very successful wide receiver in college.
The college he’s attending, Wingate, thinks he can be a very successful defensive back.
And just for good measure, if the Bulldogs wish, Gragg can accomplish a lot as a punt returner.
Gragg has signed with the South Atlantic Conference school and says he’s ready to produce — wherever.
“They’re mainly a throwing offense,” Gragg said. “But they said their defensive backs are shorter number-wise. They told me they’d try me out at both, but they might put at DB.”
No problem, he says.
“I like it,” Gragg beamed of his future position. “It’s where I played most of the year.”
That was out of necessity, according to Woody.
“It was a tough situation,” Woody said. “We had a lot of injuries and lost two defensive backs. He had to go over there.”
And why Gragg?
“He’s one of the best athletes we had,” said defensive coordinator Travis Billings. “There wasn’t a lot of coaching in that deal. It took a couple of weeks to get him worked in. When you have speed, you can overcome a lot.”
Speed is what the 5-10 Gragg brought to the Cougars as an offensive threat. He scored in five straight games and had one punt return for 79 yards. After going to the defensive side of the ball, he finished with two interceptions.
“They told me, ‘We know you have the talent to do it,’ ” said Gragg, who can play conerback or safety.
His brother, Zack, a record-setting quarterback when he was at Carson, knew he had talent as well. When Ben didn’t play as a freshman, Zack urged him to hit the field.
“My brother pushed me,” Gragg smiled. “He said once I played, I’d love it. And I fell in love with it.”
“It wasn’t so much what we did to get him out there,” Woody said. “He realized he needed to play.”
After a season on jayvee, he produced as a junior and senior. He even overcame a concussion in 2012 when a helmet-to-helmet collision forced him to miss two games. But when it was all said and done, his brother’s advice led Ben to becoming a star in the North Piedmont Conference.
And the colleges came calling. He received interest from Western Carolina, Catawba, Wingate and Mars Hill.
“Wingate felt like a new home for me,” Gragg said. “I like the coaching staff. They push you but it’s really homey.”
Gragg will be the fourth Rowan County player to become a Bulldog for Joe Reich, including his Carson teammate T.J. Bell.
Woody helped Gragg’s recruiting process by realizing he could be used in several different ways.
“Ben’s very versatile,” he said. “I think he can be a real good receiver. But in today’s world, you’ve got to find your niche. They recruit players for certain positions.”
Wherever he plays, Woody isn’t worried about whether Gragg can succeed.
“He’s got a lot ahead of him if he wants it,” Woody said. “He has a lot of upside.”
And he’s the type of player Wingate will benefit from having, Woody added.
“Ben is the type of kid who will do what he has to do to help the team.”
At Wingate, that will be as a defensive back.