Every February, a wheelbarrow full of five-star recruits makes a deposit on the campus at the University of Texas.
Under Mack Brown, reeling in one of the nation's top classes has become an annual tradition. It's hard to stick out. Even still, running back Johnathan Gray came to Texas with as much or more hype as any signee under Brown.
That's what happens when you're the Gatorade National Player of the Year and score 205 rushing touchdowns, more than any running back in high school football history. Oh, and there's also that matter of his 10,908 rushing yards, more than all but two running backs in the history of high school football.
All five-star prospects are not created equal.
With last year's leading rusher, Malcolm Brown, shelved and/or banged up the past couple weeks, Gray's chance has come early. He's taken advantage with his first two career 100-yard games, racking up 111 yards against Kansas and 106 yards last week against Texas Tech, both times setting his career high for carries, with 18 and 20, respectively.
"We’re very excited about what Johnathan’s done. He’s done what we expected him to do," Mack Brown said. "He’s very mature. He’s tough, he’s fast, he’s a very smart football player."
Part of that comes from playing the game from the time he was in grade school. Having a father in James Gray who was an All-American running back at Texas Tech can't hurt, either. Gray's first 100-yard game came in Lubbock, where his father played from 1986-89 and was one of the best backs in Red Raiders history, scoring 52 rushing touchdowns to set the Southwestern Conference all-time record.
Gray's making an impact despite not enrolling early in the spring and showing up to campus over the summer like the majority of his classmates. Brown credits the 5-foot-11, 207-pound true freshman's maturity for his early impact.
"He’s very tough but he loves football. He’s so competitive," Brown said. "He practices every day in practice the same way he plays in a game and that’s a very good attribute for a young freshman."
Brown's scored just one touchdown this season compared to teammate Joe Bergeron's 16, but he's averaged 5.28 yards on his 101 carries. In a season when most expected Gray to make only slight contributions, he's leading the team in rushing.
"Johnathan's gotten better week to week. He's prepared more. He's had more opportunities and he's taken advantage of those," offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin told reporters this week. "That's what anybody that plays, when they have an opportunity to take advantage of it, and he's continued to do that. He needs to have that mindset this week in practice. Take advantage of your opportunities, be prepared, and do your job."
Gray's opportunities have come thanks to a lingering ankle injury from Brown, but his own efforts have put him atop the team's rushing race and eighth in the Big 12 as a true freshman. Along the way, he's proven that if Texas needs him to be a featured back, he'll have the ability to deliver. The best news: He'll only continue to get better.
"He’s so competitive. That’s what you didn’t know," Brown said. "He works so hard every day in practice that you’re not surprised when you watch him accomplish what he does on game day."