This year's recipient of the Mr. Football USA award, the title bestowed upon the nation's most outstanding on-field player each fall by ESPNHS, reminds us a lot of last year's winner, probably because it's the same player. Tailback Johnathan Gray of Aledo (Texas) was the first junior to ever win the award in 2010 and is once again ESPNHS's selection as Mr. Football USA.
"I'm blessed with the family, coaches and teammates that have helped me get to where I am," said Gray. "I'd never be capable of doing this by myself, and I'd like to think that we won this together and that it's our honor together. It's a team game and in order to have success it requires a team effort."
Gray can now be considered the Archie Griffin of the award, becoming the first player to earn the distinction twice. Mr. Football USA dates back to 1970 and Gray is joined by four other Lone Star State running backs -- Earl Campbell (1973), Billy Sims (1974), Eric Dickerson (1978) and Cedric Benson (2000) -- to have been awarded the coveted honor.
His statistical success is undoubtedly the stuff of legend, but it has translated well into the win column as well. In Aledo's third straight state title win, a 49-28 victory over Manvel (Texas), Gray scored his 205th career touchdown, becoming high school's all-time career touchdown leader, surpassing former Michigan star Mike Hart in the process. In last year's state title victory over La Marque (Texas), Gray scored eight times, setting a Texas state championship record.
In front of every great back are the linemen who sacrifice to create the lanes and holes, and Gray is grateful for what his crew has done for him over the years.
"My O-line guys tell me, 'If I'm gonna block for you, you might as well go ahead and score, man,'" said Gray. "I tell them, 'You go get that 'backer and I'll get in for you.' Those guys work really hard and a lot of my success and our team's success is thanks to them."
Adding to his already gaudy résumé entering this season, Gray amassed 65 rushing touchdowns for Aledo this year and finished second all-time in points scored for a career (1,232), just 14 points shy of Hart. He finished his career with a yardage total that resembles the tally of a storied NFL career, with 10,908 yards on the ground, placing him as the No. 3 rusher in high school football history. With five receiving scores this season, his total of 70 touchdowns left him just one shy of the national single-season record for all-purpose touchdowns, held by T.A. McLendon of Albemarle (N.C.), who scored 71 touchdowns in 2001. Gray extended his state career record of 100-yard rushing games to 51.
You get the idea. The numbers are incredible and indelible, all while winning three straight state titles in the competitive climate of Texas high school football.
"You are always going to look back at these days and wish you could play high school football again," said Gray. "Especially playing in Texas, where football is just amazing and so important to people. Winning three straight championships is just so hard to do, and on top of that to have this honor is just another great blessing."
2011 Mr. Football USA -- RB Johnathan Gray, Aledo (Texas)
Last week: The nation's top-rated running back and 2010 ESPNHS Mr. Football USA carried the ball 30 times for 241 yards and one memorable and record-setting touchdown in Aledo's championship victory.
Season totals: 346 carries for 3,905 rushing yards and 65 rushing touchdowns, 28 catches for 567 receiving yards and five receiving touchdowns; Aledo went 14-2 and ended up No. 45 in the final POWERADE FAB 50 ballot of the season.
The Other Mr. Football USA Finalists
WR Dorial Green-Beckham, Hillcrest (Springfield, Mo.)
Season Totals: 119 catches for 2,233 yards and 24 touchdowns, one rushing touchdown; team finished 11-2.
Recap: Green-Beckham established a new national record for receiving yards this season to cap an incredible prep career. Having overcome serious off-field obstacles makes his storied career and the record production that much more impressive. The chase for a commitment continues into the winter for the star wideout, who remains undecided for the next level.
RB Randy "Duke" Johnson, Miami Norland (Miami)
Last week: Johnson, a Miami recruit, led FAB 50 No. 7 Norland to its first state title since 2002 with 266 total yards and five touchdowns in a 38-0 drubbing of Wakulla (Crawfordville, Fla.) in the Class 5A state championship game. The dynamic back compiled more than 700 rushing yards and scored 11 times in the past three playoff wins.
Season totals: 208 carries for 1,957 rushing yards and 29 touchdowns, 14 receptions for 232 receiving yards and three touchdowns, three kickoff returns and one punt return for scores; team finished 14-0.
Recap: Johnson may not have the gaudy season totals like some others on this list, as he missed one game to suspension and one other to injury this fall, but there's no doubt he's the most explosive offensive player in Florida and carried Norland to its first state crown in nearly a decade. The proud "U" commit also overcame significant off-field adversity on the road to personal and team success and will keep ACC defenders busy for the next several years.
QB Maty Mauk, Kenton (Ohio)
Season Totals: 382 of 556 for 5,413 yards and 68 touchdowns with 16 interceptions, 241 carries for 1,768 rushing yards and 23 touchdowns; team finished 14-1.
Recap: Mauk, a Missouri recruit, finished his astounding prep career with national career records in passing yards (18,932), touchdown passes (219), completions (1,353), attempts (2,110) and total yards (22,681), all while passing his older brother Ben for several of these distinctions.
ATH Davonte' Neal, Chaparral (Scottsdale, Ariz.)
Season Totals: 100 carries for 1,317 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns, 62 receptions for 1,113 yards and 14 touchdowns, three kickoff returns for touchdowns and two punt return scores, recorded 31 tackles on defense; team finished 14-1 and is No. 22 in the FAB 50.
Recap: A truly dynamic talent with considerable contributions all over the field, there's little Neal can't do on the gridiron. Like Green-Beckham, Neal remains a coveted recruit who has yet to commit to his college of choice.
QB Patrick Towles, Highlands (Fort Thomas, Ky.)
Season Totals: 181-of-279 for 3,820 yards, 42 touchdowns and one interception, with 589 rushing yards and 15 rushing touchdowns; team finished 15-0 and No. 34 in the FAB 50.
Recap: The 6-foot-6 signal-caller led his team to a dominating season that saw them set state records with 849 points, 121 touchdowns and 7,516 total yards. Highlands won the Class 4A crown while outscoring five playoff victims 263-76. A Kentucky recruit, Towles was named the Gatorade State Player of the Year.
RB Trey Williams, Dekaney (Houston)
Last week: This year marked the first time the Wildcats ever made the state playoffs and Dekaney, fueled by Williams' 197 rushing yards and three touchdowns, upset FAB 50 No. 14 Steele (Cibolo, Texas) 34-14 in the Class 5A Division II state championship game.
Season totals: The Texas A&M commit ran for 3,884 yards and 48 touchdowns on 427 carries, caught two touchdown passes and returned a kickoff for a score. Team finished 14-2 and No. 34 in the FAB 50.
Recap: The state title run proved even more impressive given that Dekaney fielded its first varsity team in 2008. Williams put together one of the best seasons in the history of Texas high school football and would assuredly get more shine if not for the epic accomplishments of his in-state peer Gray.
QB Jameis Winston, Hueytown (Ala.)
Season Totals: 163-of-234 for 2,424 yards and 28 touchdowns with two interceptions, 1,063 rushing yards and 15 rushing touchdowns, one touchdown reception; team finished 13-1.
Recap: The top QB in the nation and Elite 11 co-MVP is a brilliant athlete with legitimate professional potential in baseball. The versatile and affable Winston will take his talents to Tallahassee and pursue both sports at Florida State.
ESPNHS Mr. Football USA
Players of the Year (All-Time List)
2011 – Johnathan Gray, Aledo (Texas) RB
2010 – Johnathan Gray, Aledo (Texas) RB (Jr.)
2009 – Dillon Baxter, Mission Bay (San Diego) QB-RB
2008 – Garrett Gilbert, Lake Travis (Austin, Texas) QB
2007 – Jacory Harris, Northwestern (Miami) QB
2006 – Darren Evans, Warren Central (Indianapolis) FB
2005 – Matthew Stafford, Highland Park (Dallas) QB
2004 – Chase Daniel, Carroll (Southlake, Texas) QB
2003 – Jeff Byers, Loveland (Loveland, Colo.) OL-DL
2002 – Chris Leak, Independence (Charlotte, N.C.) QB
2001 – Vince Young, Madison (Houston) QB
2000 – Cedric Benson, Robert E. Lee (Midland, Texas) RB
1999 – D.J. Williams, De La Salle (Concord, Calif.) RB-LB
1998 – J.R. House, Nitro (Nitro, W. Va.) QB
1997 – Ronald Curry, Hampton (Va.) QB-RB
1996 – Travis Henry, Frostproof (Fla.) RB
1995 – Tim Couch, Leslie County (Hyden, Ky.) QB
1994 – Chris Redman, Male (Louisville, Ky.) QB
1993 – Peyton Manning, Newman (New Orleans) QB
1992 – James Allen, Wynnewood (Okla.) RB
1991 – Steven Davis, Spartanburg (S.C.) RB
1990 – Derrick Brooks, Washington (Pensacola, Fla.) LB
1989 – Robert Smith, Euclid (Ohio) RB
1988 – Terry Kirby, Tabb (Va.) RB
1987 – Carl Pickens, Murphy (N.C.) WR
1986 – Emmitt Smith, Escambia (Pensacola, Fla.) RB
1985 – Jeff George, Warren Central (Indianapolis) QB
1984 – Andre Rison, Northwestern (Flint, Mich.) WR-DB
1983 – Chris Spielman, Washington (Massillon, Ohio) LB
1982 – Rod Woodson, Snider (Fort Wayne, Ind.) WR-DB
1981 – Marcus Dupree, Philadelphia (Miss.) RB
1980 – Bill Fralic, Penn Hills (Pittsburgh) OL
1979 – Herschel Walker, Johnson County (Wrightsville, Ga.) RB
1978 – Eric Dickerson, Sealy (Sealy) RB
1977 – Marcus Allen, Lincoln (San Diego) QB-RB
1976 – Freeman McNeil, Banning (Wilmington, Calif.) RB
1975 – Charles White, San Fernando (San Fernando, Calif.) RB
1974 – Billy Sims, Hooks (Hooks, Texas) RB
1973 – Earl Campbell, John Tyler (Tyler, Texas) RB
1972 – Tony Dorsett, Hopewell (Aliquippa, Pa.) RB
1971 – Dave Logan, Wheat Ridge (Wheat Ridge, Colo.) WR
1970 – Pat Haden, Bishop Amat (La Puente, Calif.) QB
Brian Stumpf, Mark Tennis and Doug Huff of ESPNHS and Randy Jennings of ESPN Dallas contributed to this article.