Cyril Grayson sees the media mob coming and makes a fast dash to his locker. He quickly punches in the code to the lock box, grabs a washcloth, wipes his face dry from sweat and readies to face the cameras.
The Archbishop Rummel and LSU graduate is no stranger to the unwavering humidity of Louisiana summers, but he still needs time to get used to the pressure of being a hometown hero in an NFL locker room.
“I’m really just trying to be who I am,” he said. “Just the best ‘me’ I can be every day I’m out there.”
At his core, Grayson is a four-time NCAA track and field national champion, part of four separate title-winning 4x400 relay teams during his tenure at LSU, where he was a seven-time All-American and became one of the most decorated relay runners in the program’s history.
But in a way, his gifted combination of endurance and speed, both pivotal for a 400-meter specialist, previously kept him off the football field for nearly six years. Because Grayson signed a track and field scholarship with the Tigers after taking both the outdoor Class 5A 400 and 800-meter state titles his senior year at Rummel in 2012 — rather than a football scholarship — rules prevented him from competing in both, had he managed to win a walk-on spot.
The music blared during the stretching portion of the Saints' organized team activities Thursday, just like it always does during practice.
Instead, Grayson wrote himself into the history books at the Bernie Moore Track Complex before essentially campaigning into a spot at the LSU football team’s 2017 Pro Day, where he caught every pass thrown his way, ran a 4.33 40-yard-dash and posted the day’s bests in the 60-yard shuttle and the broad jump.
And though he signed a three-year rookie contract with the Seahawks just days after that performance, Grayson has never found a way to stick on an NFL roster. Call it bias against a player who hadn’t played a competitive regular season or postseason snap — at any level — since the fall of 2011; call it the struggles of maybe being seen by some as a one-trick pony.
But after the Bears, who were the third team Grayson hopped onto in 2018 and who signed him to a reserve/futures contract in January, cut him following their rookie minicamp on May 6, he dropped a feeler to Saints senior offensive assistant coach Curtis Johnson, who managed to get him an invitation to the Saints minicamp the following weekend.
There, his speed alone dominated the spotlight against younger, inexperienced defenders.
“Once we saw him for a second, we knew he had a lot of speed,” Johnson said. “All of a sudden, he’s getting behind people in rookie camp, so we decided to sign him and see ‘Okay, let’s see if he can do it to the veterans.’ ”
Grayson put his speed on display several times Thursday during the open portion of the team’s final day of its first OTA, bursting through the top of the team’s safety coverage or using one quick move in man-coverage to leverage an advantage no corner was going to make up.
If Drew Brees’ 40-year-old arm can find him far enough down field, Grayson could be a lot to handle for opponents down the road.
“He is someone that runs exceptionally well. He seems to pick things up, and he’s been with a few offenses already now,” head coach Sean Payton said. “He runs well, which in our league is important. He runs exceptionally well.
“But he’s behind, just when you look at snaps played prior to coming into this league, and yet there’s a trail there that other teams have seen, and we’ve seen the same thing.”
The Saints held their second day of OTAs on Thursday.
Payton, of course, is no stranger to creativity and risk-taking in both his play-calling and personnel choices. Taysom Hill, who played quarterback, tight end, wide receiver, fullback and in special teams coverage a year ago, is a perfect example of Payton’s willingness to use players who display athleticism and a high IQ for the game.
The latter, maybe more-so than physical talents, may be what Grayson has to focus most on in the coming weeks, hoping to drop jaws just as much in the meeting rooms.
“Just being in the system and knowing what I’m supposed to do, that’s going to be the first thing I’ve got to focus on,” he said. “If you don’t know what you’re doing, then you can’t play.”
That dedication to absorbing every aspect of the team’s playbook might deprive fans the opportunity of quite an intriguing race, though. After new teammate Ted Ginn Jr. made headlines on The Lefkoe Show podcast last week, saying he was willing to race anyone who was willing to put down a $10,000 bet, Grayson said he’s spoken to the veteran wideout, but a race between the two currently isn’t in the works.
Grayson, though of course not considered a pure sprinter, beat Ginn Jr.’s combine 40-time by four-hundredths of a second and has a personal-best 400 time just 0.53 seconds slower than decorated 100 and 200-meter Olympic champion Usain Bolt, for comparison. The 34-year-old Ginn Jr., on the other hand, has claimed in the past he could run the 40 in 4.22 seconds.
“I told (Ginn Jr.) if he fronts my $10,000, you know and his, maybe we can do something,” Grayson joked. “But I don’t think we’re going to be able to race. There’s more important things to do in football to play, and that’s what it’s all about.”
But should that speed remain while his brain catches up, Johnson said he sees no reason Grayson can’t fight for a roster spot come training camp.
“(Keith) Kirkwood last year was the surprise,” he said. “This guy may be the surprise this year.”