Garrett Grayson knows he’s at a crossroads.
The former Heritage High School and Colorado State standout who set multiple passing records as a prep and college quarterback, has seen more downs than ups to begin his NFL career.
But this season — the start of his third with the New Orleans Saints, the organization that made him their third-round draft pick in 2015 — he views as make-it-or-break-it time.
“I took a step back,” Grayson said Monday, “and that looks bad.”
Now, he’s more than ready to take that step forward after spending all of 2016 on the Saints’ practice squad; New Orleans released him the week of the team’s season opener.
On Monday, Grayson was back at a familiar setting where he shined in his prep days — McKenzie Stadium — for a throwing session with members of Mountain View High School’s football team. It was arranged by head coach Adam Mathieson and offensive coordinator Ben Matthias, an ex-Heritage assistant when Grayson threw for 81 career touchdowns as a three-year high school starter from 2007-’09.
Having high-school players run routes for an hour with Grayson was one of his final preparations before the Saints’ training camp begins July 26, and because of the off-season plan he devised, he’s confident more than ever he can jumpstart his career in the right direction.
With the help of his agent, Neil Schwartz, Grayson spent most of the off-season in Gainesville, Fla., with his ex-college coach, Jim McElwain, now Florida’s head coach, and members of the Florida staff trying to rediscover what made him worthy of his third-round draft pick in 2015.
Grayson played for McElwain at Colorado State for three seasons as part of his record-setting career with the Rams. As he put it, Grayson went back to basics with McElwain.
The physical tools were there, but what Grayson gained the most being reunited with McElwain was his rejuvenation of the mental side of football. He studied film from every 2016 game, watching the man whose job he’s chasing — All-Pro quarterback Drew Brees.
“I went back and probably watched every game we played last season five or six times,” Grayson said, “and it was good to see what Drew was doing on every given play and every situation.”
Grayson acknowledged his struggles in four preseason games last year, completing 39 of 70 passes for 409 yards with four interceptions and two touchdowns. He didn’t play a regular-season game as a rookie in 2015. But the disappointment came when he was released the week of New Orleans’ season opener against Oakland.
“I had no one else to blame but myself,” he said.
After the season ended, Grayson turned to McElwain, a man he labeled as the best teacher of the game of all the coaches he’s played for and “going back to the roots of everything that got me where I am today.”
Grayson is grateful for the help. His shaky NFL start compares similarly to Brees’ time with the San Diego Chargers. Brees was benched in his second and third seasons, yet things turned out for the better for Brees after arriving in New Orleans.
Grayson, too, hopes he’ll climb that same ladder with the Saints.
“I knew it could be done,” Grayson said. “Getting back from being at the bottom, and Drew has done that. To be that low and now be that high, it’s something special to see and you use that as fire to get yourself going.
“This off-season, I did everything I could.”