He was the National Player of the Year. He is fast. He is tough. He has done everything with class. We plan on Johnathan playing when he gets there.
The real Johnathan Gray
An in depth look at Texas recruit Johnathan Gray. Get to know the five-star recruit outside of the gridiron.
The Texas offense experienced resurgence in the running game in 2011 thanks to the additions of Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron—the two featured tailbacks in the Longhorn backfield. These two freshman talents helped improve the Longhorns’ prior rushing total of 1,806 yards and turn it into a top-25 rushing number in 2011: 2,634.
Now, a new freshman will be jumping into the mix and adding to what could be one of the most talented backfields in the nation once the 2012-13 football season is all said and done.
Johnathan Gray, the 5’10”, 200-pound five-star recruit, hails from Aledo, Texas. It was here that he played his varsity ball—and started—for almost a full four years. Not long into his freshman year, Aledo Bearcats coaches and fans began to realize the rare talent that the young Gray possessed. He made an immediate impact, notching multiple-touchdown games in his belt just a few weeks into his first varsity season. The rest is high school football history.
Besides his 205 career touchdowns (a national high school record), Johnathan Gray also led Aledo to three straight Class 4A Texas state championships. He finished his high school career with a total of 10,908 rushing yards and a Texas state record 51 100-yard rushing games.
But amidst all of the individual awards and accolades, Gray maintained and promoted the “team first, me second” mentality that so many of today’s great athletes are deficient of. The grateful running back made it known that he was just a single cog inside a larger machine, after his most recent record-breaking state championship.
“The record means a lot because I couldn't do it alone. Breaking a record like that takes a team effort," said Gray in a post-game interview.
His head coach, Tim Buchanan, echoed these thoughts.
“Our priority was to win the game, not get Johnathan the record,'' Buchanan said. "I guarantee you if Johnathan had broken the record and we didn't win, he wouldn't have been happy."
This stellar character and mentality is something Johnathan can thank his dad for. James Gray, a member of the Texas Tech Football Hall of Fame as a running back, is the source of Johnathan’s motivation and guidance, and has been since Johnathan was old enough to pick up a football.
Hard work and determination has always been the motto in the Gray household.
"He persevered and progressed over time to get to this point," stated James Gray. "But that's how he's done everything his whole life. Whether it was riding a bike or skating, he never wanted any help. He'd fall down and always get up. He's stubborn and he has great, great willpower. It takes a lot to defeat him."
Although much of Johnathan’s willpower is innate, a great deal of it was learned from the teachings of his father. Junior high and high school consisted of numerous early morning workouts; James Gray let his son know exactly how much work and effort it takes to become great.
"He was somebody who cared," Johnathan said of his father, "and I always liked working out and running. It felt great. My dad just coached me and told me how hard it was to go from high school to college and college to the pros."
James Gray has been there, done that. After a great career as a Red Raider, James was drafted by the New England Patriots in the fifth-round of the 1990 NFL Draft. His success in the league was minimal, but it was full of learning experiences—experiences he is now able to share with his son.
Just as James Gray’s father gave him the life-long advice to never look back, Johnathan has received the same advice from his father. And the No. 1 national recruit never did look back on his way to a historic high school football career and a scholarship to play at the University of Texas.
The latter was never fully expected, however. Being that Johnathan’s father was a Hall of Famer at Texas Tech, intuition told many that Tech would be a primary consideration. But when more and more offers began to find their way to the Gray household in Aledo, TX, the pros and cons had to be weighed.
"I told him you've got to put Texas at the top of your list," James said. “I'm a Red Raider first, but I'm from the state of Texas. And I think it would be a great honor to represent the University of Texas."
It was with his father’s blessing that Johnathan signed with Mack Brown and Texas, even with the stiff competition at the running back position; Gray is certainly not afraid of in-house competition. Being a kid with great character, many should expect him to turn it into a learning experience.
"Since [Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron] have already been there for a year and know the ropes I am going to go in and learn from them and play hard," said Gray.
If anything is for certain, it’s that Johnathan Gray will value his teammates and opportunities at the college level the same way he has done so in the past: with undeniable integrity and class. For Mack Brown, signing Gray gives him more than just a running back who can impact games immediately. Gray also serves as a peace of mind, in that no matter what the situation, he will accept it and find a way to turn a negative into a positive.
A coach’s dream, sure enough; but even more so, a father’s dream.
"When I have people tell me about his character or that I have a great son, that makes me happiest," James Gray said. "I've tried to teach him that the game someday goes away but the legacy you leave is what kind of person you are."
And it’s this legacy that Johnathan will begin to build this fall. Longhorn fans will see Gray immediately inserted into the tailback rotation with sophomores Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron. Mack Brown has made it no secret that he intends to get Johnathan carries early on.
"Johnathan has done everything right in his career," Brown said. "He was the National Player of the Year. He is fast. He is tough. He has done everything with class. We plan on Johnathan playing when he gets there."
It is now just a matter of time. When he finally does get his opportunity though, you can bank on him being adequately prepared for the moment. Besides his mother and father’s help, Gray comes into a situation on the 40-acres that couldn’t be more beneficial. There is depth at the tailback position, so the expected workload will be minimal, even with the deficiency at the quarterback position. Brown and Bergeron are already established, and it’s with their help that Johnathan will have the chance to adapt to the speed of the college game. Luckily, Johnathan Gray understands the situation.
"I'm not too much worried about playing time. Time will come and the best players will play. Once my time comes I will try and shine and work hard at it," said the freshman tailback.
Possibly the toughest transition will be the reduced number of carries for the freshman. For four straight years, Gray has been “the guy,” in terms of touches. Now he’ll have to yield many of those carries to his running mates and assume the role of “one of the guys” early on. According to his high school coach, this shouldn’t be a worry.
"He's a great teammate – a great one," Tim Buchanan said. "There have been many games team stack nine in the box and dare us to pass. We'll throw for 300 or 400 yards and he'll get minimal carries and he's just as excited in victory as he would be with 300 rushing yards."
So, with the arrival of Johnathan Gray comes the final ingredient to a Texas rushing game looking to take back what was lost between 2008 and 2010. There are question marks that loom, but one thing is for certain: the success of the Longhorns pursuit of a BCS Bowl appearance will hinge on the productivity of Malcolm Brown, Joe Bergeron and the confident Johnathan Gray.
“There are high expectations but I think we can live up to them,” said Gray. “We are going in with the mindset of getting better, win some national championships and get the program back to where it should be."