On the first play of the 2020 Open Division Championship, Chandler coach Rick Garretson witnessed what he called probably the best block he has ever seen in high school football.
As senior running back Eli Sanders raced 80 yards to the end zone for the game’s opening touchdown, he went untouched by any of Hamilton’s defenders, thanks in part to a pancake block laid by one of his teammates.
It wasn’t an offensive lineman. It wasn’t a tight end either.
It was junior wide receiver Kyion Grayes II, playing in his first game back from an ankle injury, heeding the advice of passing game coordinator Chad Carpenter.
“He says, ‘if you’re not going to block, you’re not going to play,’” Grayes said. “The only reason I am playing is because I can block.”
Grayes is not just a blocker, however. Quick off the line of scrimmage, his elusive footwork and speed allow him to burn defensive backs. His skills as a route-runner allow him to reel in catches all over the field. These qualities have made the senior a four-star recruit and the best wideout in the class of 2022 from Arizona.
His talent has been well-noticed across the country. Grayes notched 17 offers from programs such as Ohio State, Texas and the University of Southern California, as well as in-state University of Arizona and Arizona State. Grayes was committed to the Wildcats for four months before reopening his recruitment in December and choosing the Buckeyes, where he will join one of, if not the best, receiver rooms in all of college football.
“He looks at it as a perfect opportunity to play at the biggest level,” Chandler senior running back Quaron Adams said. “Compete against some of the top guys that are eventually (going to) one day get drafted. Once he gets there, he’ll be ready for it.”
The rise of Grayes into a top-200 recruit started in California’s Inland Empire, where he shifted from playing quarterback and running back to wideout.
When he switched positions in eighth grade, it was a steep learning curve. Grayes consistently competed against the state’s top talent
“You had to turn on some type of dog inside you because these kids were not playing with you,” Grayes said. “It was a mindset you had to switch on and be ready whenever you stepped out on that field.”
That mindset allowed Grayes to make an immediate impact when he moved back to Arizona and joined Chandler’s freshman team. He played so well that the Wolves’ coaches pulled him up to varsity for the playoffs. Even though he saw no playing time, Grayes practiced with the ones, giving him valuable experience, as well as an inner drive to do whatever it took to take the field.
Despite a sickness which forced him to sit out of most summer seven-on-seven competitions, Grayes told his father that by the start of the season, he would have a starting job. To keep his word, he studied the playbook, lifted and made sure to get his body right.
It paid off. In the season opener against Liberty, Grayes came onto the field with Chandler’s
top offense. He caught three passes for 32 yards and a touchdown in the 31-17 win.
“He’s just one of those kids,” Garretson said. “He’s gonna gut it out and get out there and be with his teammates. Watching him in practice, how he drives himself. He allows himself to be coached hard.”
In 13 games, Grayes reeled in 48 catches for 883 yards and six touchdowns. He surpassed 100 yards in three contests, including a 155-yard performance against Perry. He showcased big-play ability by notching huge receptions throughout the season such as a 70-yard grab in a 56-0 win over Capital Christian.
Most of all, he stepped up in the biggest moments. His five catches for 78 yards and two touchdowns against Saguaro helped Chandler become the first-ever Open Division champions.
In August, Grayes committed to Arizona over offers from Arizona State, Michigan State, Miami and others. However, he made sure the Wildcats knew his recruitment was still fully open amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I just didn’t know what was going to happen with recruitment,” Grayes said. “I felt, at that time, I’m gonna stay home and say I’m staying home right now and then figure it all out.”
As Grayes’ play increased, so did his role as a leader. He has served as a mentor to Chandler’s younger wideouts and utilizes his work ethic in practice to improve the game of his teammates. These qualities are also exemplified off the field in the Wolves’ leadership meetings.
Senior defensive back Franky Morales, who played with Grayes on the State 48 seven-on-seven team ahead of freshman year, said practicing against him requires more focus and discipline due to his arsenal of moves and releases off the ball.
“On the field, we’re two leaders, two units, trying to bring the school a championship,” Morales said. “He’s the best receiver we go against. He works all of us as a collective group. He works us to be greater every single day.”
Grayes began his junior season the way he ended the previous year: as a playmaker. He grabbed five passes for 138 yards and four touchdowns against Liberty to kick off the year.
Over the course of a “weird” season that included missed practices and canceled games, Grayes caught 28 passes for 556 yards and 10 touchdowns to help the Wolves reach their second-straight Open Division title game. His block against Hamilton was one of the plays that helped lift the Wolves to a 23-21 victory.
Two days after the championship, he decommitted from Arizona. The firing of head coach Kevin Sumlin played a role since he built close relationships with members of his staff.
A big role in his college decision was a team that was going to be honest about the reality of playing college football. He found that in the Buckeyes.
Grayes officially chose Ohio State on Feb. 28. He plans to arrive at the school this January following his appearance in the Under Armour All-America Game.
But before then, he hopes to rack up at least 1,000 receiving yards and bring a sixth-consecutive state championship to Chandler.
His longtime coach knows the rising senior is up for the challenge. After all, he can run, catch and block. And bench-press 300 pounds.
“Every year, they mature, get bigger, faster and stronger,” Garretson said. “That’s exactly where he’s at right now.”