Record setter ready for next step

AUSTIN, Texas - - If you listen quietly you can hear the beeping of the delivery truck backing its way into Darrell K Royal Texas-Memorial Stadium to drop off the university's latest statue.

Its dimensions are much bigger than the 5-foot-10, 205-pound stature of the player himself, Aledo (Texas) running back Johnathan Gray. But that shouldn't come as a surprise.

Everything about the nation's top running back and second-rated player in the ESPNU 150 is larger than life.

His high school statistics -- Gray rushed for 10,908 yards and a national-record 205 touchdowns. He is at or near the top of so many national and state rushing and scoring lists that it's hard to keep count.

His collection of awards -- Gray helped Aledo win three-straight state titles, and was twice named Mr. Football USA and Gatorade National Player of the Year.

That smile -- not only is he one of the state's all-time great prep players, but also one of its most endearing.

OK, so there isn't a statue erected in his honor … yet. For goodness sake he hasn't even signed his scholarship or enrolled at Texas.

But to hear people talk about him as the second coming of Earl, Ricky, Cedric or something even more inhuman would lead you to believe it's only a matter of time.

"It's like he walks on water," laughed James Gray, Johnathan's father.

James was a highly touted back in his own right out of Forth Worth (Texas) Trimble Tech. He left Texas Tech one semester short of his degree with 4,066 rushing yards, then a school record, and is still No. 2 behind Byron Hanspard.

But he never had someone tell him some of the things that's they've told him about his son.

"I've had people tell me that he is going to win three Heismans in a row," James said.

Gray would become the first player in college football history to accomplish that feat. So three is probably a stretch, but who's to say one isn't a possibility?

You can't at this stage of his career.

Gray, who resides some 200 miles northwest of Austin, has warranted the outlandish and somewhat absurd expectations with one of the all-time great careers. Rushing for 818 yards and 13 touchdowns in three state title games will do that.

But Gray, schooled by his father in discipline and team-first attitude, isn't so much concerned with personal achievement as he is about getting Texas back to its winning ways.

"I definitely can't wait to get down there and play with all of the commits that have committed for 2012," said Gray, who is almost healed from an ankle injury suffered in the Under Armour All-America Game on Jan. 5. "We are all excited to play. There are high expectations but I think we can live up to them. We are going in with the mindset of getting better, win some national championships and get the program back to where it should be."

That's not to say he doesn't have high expectations for himself.

"My expectations are high," Gray said. "I'm going in with the mindset of learning the game first and take what I learn out on the field. From there I'm just going to work hard, play hard and play my heart out."

But he also understands he will be a freshman playing a position which will bring back two promising players next season in sophomores Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron.

The duo rushed for a combined 1,205 yards and 10 touchdowns despite being banged up at different times of the season.

"Since they 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, who took his official visit to Texas over the weekend. "I think we will all work well together. It's a three-headed monster. You have a power back, a speed back, basically power and speed. That's what you want out of your backfield. I think we will mold together great."

How exactly they'll mold together remains to be seen. But with so much uncertainty at quarterback, the Longhorns figure to rely heavily on these three to keep the offense churning.

"My expectations are for him to go down there and be part of something great," James Gray said. "From my perspective, I wish it would be a situation where he doesn't get to carry the ball that much. If that is the case, then that means that Malcolm and Joe are doing a great job."

Even if Brown and Bergeron are getting the bulk of the carries, Texas is still going to need a change of pace back for its Wildcat formation now that Fozzy Whittaker is gone. Gray would seem to be just the guy for the job.

And his pass catching abilities out of the backfield are so polished (26 receptions for 540 yards and five touchdowns last season) that he'll surely be an option for third-and-longs too.

"That's something as a running back that you want to do, catch the ball," Johnathan Gray said. "You don't want to take too many hits. I like catching the ball out of the backfield. It's a skill factor and you want to put your skill players out there."

The Grays have spoken at length about playing time, the idea of starting and what that even means on a large scale. Right now those are all secondary factors to Gray's primary goal of winning games.

"I'm not too much worried about playing time," Gray said. "Time will come and the best players will play. Once my time comes I will try and shine and work hard at it."

William Wilkerson covers University of Texas football and recruiting for HornsNation.
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