Johnathan Gray: 2012 Texas Recruiting Spotlight

Johnathan Gray made a lot of Texas fans extremely happy when he threw his horns up on his 18th birthday.

Vitals

Name: Johnathan Gray

Position: Running back

Height: 5-10

Weight: 205

Speed: 4.53

School: Aledo

Rating (Rivals): Five out of five (6.1)

Offers

  • Texas (committed 4/22/2011)
  • Arkansas
  • Auburn
  • Baylor
  • Colorado
  • TCU
  • Texas A&M
  • Texas Tech
  • USC

Overview/recruitment

Remember when people wondered if Major Applewhite could recruit running backs to Texas, having never played the position himself? Yeah, those were fun times. After landing Johnathan Gray and Daje Johnson in 2012 after picking up Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron in 2011, the biggest problem for the Longhorns moving forward at the position will be finding a 2013 back willing to brave the deep depth chart and allocating carries to them all.

Talk about an embarrassment of riches.

Like Cayleb Jones, Johnathan Gray's recruitment was several years old by the time that teams could offer him in September of his junior year and downright lengthy when the Longhorns offered him the day before the first Junior Day in February of 2011.

Fortunately for Johnathan, his father, James, played running back at Texas Tech in the 80s following a successful prep career in the Fort Worth area and was able to shield his son from much of the attention that surround such a high-profile recruit these days.

Gray committed to Texas in the early minutes of his 18th birthday, selecting the Longhorns over his other two finalists, TCU and Texas A&M, who never quite seemed to be in the lead during any part of the process, despite numerous trips to the nearby TCU campus in Fort Worth.

There were worries that Gray wouldn't want to commit to a school that had already recruited a five-star back the previous season. But after three seasons in high school that featured a tremendously heavy workload and two shoulder surgeries, Gray was ready to let someone else bear a large part of the burden in college:

I think we'll do great. He's a dominant back and I'm a dominant back. You just put two and two together, we'll make each other better and just try to win a national championship.

As for why Gray chose Texas, he expressed pretty much the same sentiments as most other recruits:

I chose Texas because I feel they are part of my family. Just going up there and talking to the coaches, going around to the facilities, the atmosphere that they have and the type of players they recruit it's just overwhelming. I felt like that's where I wanted to go and that's my home.

Gray compared calling the coaches from TCU and Texas A&M to breaking up with a girlfriend, while his coach said that the relationship between Gray and Major Applewhite was "great" and that Applewhite and Mack Brown staying through the coaching changes "sealed the deal for Johnathan."

It certainly helped that Johnathan and his father had sat down and watched the Boise offense and thought that it would be a good fit for him.

Sometimes Texas is just the prettiest girl. Well, make that most of the time.

Awards:

  • Gatorade National Player of the Year (2011)
  • Tom Landry Award (2011)
  • Mr. Football USA (2011)
  • US Air Force National Player of the Year (2011)
  • AP Texas Player of the Year (2011)
  • Under Armour All-American (2012)
  • USA Today All-American (2011)
  • Consensus All-American (2011)
  • Parade All-American (2011)
  • MaxPreps All-American (2011)
  • Sports Illustrated All-American (2011)
  • ESPNU All-American (2011)
  • Rivals All-American (2011)
  • Tom Landry Award (2010)
  • Gatorade National Player of the Year (2010)

Scouting Report

Johnathan Gray - RB Aledo Class of 2012 Sophomore Highlight Clip (via TexasPreps)

Thoughts from the Lake Travis-Aledo game in 2010, a swampy, hard-fought affair:

Even though Lake Travis OL Taylor Doyle was the Longhorn commit in the house, rest assured that OL coach Mac McWhorter and RB coach Major Applewhite weren't in attendance just to see the player who has already pledged to Texas.

No, they were there primarily to make their presence known to perhaps the top player in the state in the 2012 class, the player who will surely be the top target at the running back position.

It would be hard for a player to enter the game with more hype than Gray, who has been a standout for Aledo since his freshman season.

The first thing to note is that Lake Travis keyed on Gray all evening -- head coach Hank Carter is a defensive guy and there's no doubt that he spent most of the week preparing to stop the Aledo star. Combined with the poor field conditions after Hermine drenched Austin only several days ago and it was easy to understand why Gray didn't break any long, spectacular runs.

What he did do was pick up tough yardage. It's not hard to see why the kid had to have shoulder surgery after last season -- he runs hard and is willing to lower his shoulder to punish defenders. He doesn't have Jamaal Charles type of speed -- few do -- but he does have special short-area quickness and burst, with the ability to plant his foot and change direction.

He's also a no-nonsense runner who has a more prototypical build for the position than Malcolm Brown even. His low center of gravity, thick lower body, and ability to run behind his pads are some of his better attributes. Patience and an ability to hit the hole with vision and decisiveness round out the traits expected of the best running backs.

Several plays stand out. On the game-winning drive, Gray looked gassed with his hands on his hips after the first three plunges into the line only feet away from the go-ahead score after having carried the ball multiple times in a row. Instead of caving, Gray only got stronger, ploughing his way into the end zone -- he smelled it and everyone in the stadium knew that there was no way Lake Travis could stop him again. Then, after spending some time down on the turf after his catch and run for the big first down on the final Aledo drive, Gray re-entered the game and then ran three times to pick up the first down. He's a gamer. There isn't much to question about Gray and his toughness clearly falls on the other side of the ledger.

So even though Gray might not have overwhelmed this in attendance, those people exepecting to see a transcendent talent flash, the fact of the matter is that Lake Travis is too good of a team to allow that and Gray earned every single one of his 140 or so yards on the evening. At the least, he's an excellent running back and worthy of being a top target in the 2012 class.

Johnathan Gray vs Lake Travis (via ghostofbigroy)

Gray_medium

Photo by the author

Thoughts on his early-season senior highlights:

The Euclidian Terrorist. That's the Barking Carnival nickname for Johnathan Gray with the way that he blows up angles. Clearly he's faster than his opponents believe with some deceptive speed, but the most impressive aspect of his game -- besides basically all of it -- is that he finishes runs in the end zone. This isn't a kid who gets tackled on the five yardline. Worried about your redzone offense? The Euclidian Terrorist scores from outside the red zone.

Able to anticipate plays before they develop, Gray has an outstanding combination of patience, burst, body lean, and quick feet. If a mad football scientist designed a running back in a laboratory, the running back would come out looking a lot like Johnathan Gray.

Now the state's all-time touchdown and points scored leader, Gray continues his trajectory towards a phenomenal college career at Texas.

ESPN evaluation ($):

One of the more productive backs we have seen in recent classes. Gray is a TD machine combining load-back qualities with great top-end speed. Has a supreme blend of size and speed. Built low to the ground with a compact, sturdy frame. Muscular body still has room for added bulk. For a stronger, thicker back, this guy has very good feet, quickness and lateral movement. Shows very good vision and a feel for his blocks. Can cut it back sharply through traffic or bounce the stretch play outside without losing a lot in transition. Has the quickness and speed to get outside and turn the corner and breaks off a lot of long runs for a bigger back. Best asset though is when he plants his foot in the ground and gets North. Shows good burst out of his downhill cuts and reaches top speed quickly. Difficult to take down when he gains momentum through the hole. Feet and body are constantly driving forward. Lowers his shoulder on contact and does a great job absorbing the initial blow, bouncing off and retaining balance. Not going to tackle this guy high and he breaks through consistent lower-body tackles with his thicker thighs. Runs aggressively and will unleash a good stiff-arm on smaller DBs. Demonstrates great upper-body strength and overall yards after contact production. We would like to see him run with a bit more lean to avoid upper-body shots and enhance durability. For a powerful back, he flashes great top-end speed and acceleration when he reaches daylight. His ability to run by or through the last defender has led to countless longs runs and big gainers. Does flash a bit of hip-tightness gearing down to cut in the open-field and his body has taken a toll carrying the rock in high school. That said, Gray has all the physical traits you look for in a college back and should continue that production if he lands in college system that feeds him the rock in a downhill scheme and remains healthy.

For a second, let's just step back and look at some of the numbers here. Gray rushed for 10,908 yards in his career, despite sitting out the second half of many games during his junior and senior seasons after wrapping up victories in only two quarters of play. Those numbers fell only a couple hundred yards short of Texas legend Kenneth Hall's national record.

Gray did manage to set the national TD record with 205 career touchdowns, breaking former Michigan star MIke Hart's prep record. Roughly speaking, a highlight reel of all of Gray's touchdowns could easily surpass 20 minutes. Think about that -- 20 minutes of footage without Gray ever being tackled.

In the state of Texas, Gray set the records for single-season touchdowns, single-season carries, career carries, and career touchdowns.

The winner of three straight 4A state titles, Gray scored eight touchdowns against La Marque his junior season and ran for 320 yards, a year after rushing for 252 yards and four touchdowns against Tim Cole, Malcom Brown, and Brenham at DKR, including an 89-yard touchdown run that sealed the game.

The Euclidian Terrorist.

It's an extremely fitting nickname given that Gray used his track speed and incredible, unbelievable vision to turn so many long runs into touchdowns. If there's one thing that defines Gray and what made him such a spectacular high school player, it was that vision.

Watching game film on Gray, what stands out is that it's hard to even tell the extent to which he is capable of accelerating and reaching his top speed because he so often didn't have to use it, changing speeds and changing directions to get defenders out of position.

Johnathan Gray can see the future.

He can see it and manipulate it to his own purposes -- which are, of course, scoring touchdowns, which he did on about one out of every five touches during his high school career. One out of five. This despite every defense keying on him probably since some time during his freshman season.

Even beyond the vision, credit Gray for working hard to keep his hips loose, allowing him to jump or slide cut to provide little tackling surface for defenders. After a Mack Brown run on taller, bigger running backs, Gray is the prototype -- low to the ground, capable of running behind his pads, all those things that great running backs do.

When he steps onto campus at Texas, he will be slated to replace Fozzy Whittaker in the Wildcat formation, where he can use that superb vision to allow his blockers time to set up and execute their blocks, then burst through the hole. If there are two things that running the Power out of the Wildcat requires, it's timing and patience, both of which Gray has in spades.

Beyond that, Gray will provide a change of pace option for Texas, just as Whittaker did last season. Perhaps most importantly, the Aledo product will provide a viable zone running game threat that was missing after Whittaker went down with his knee injury against Missouri, which kept the 'Horns from effectively using 11 personnel to get more receiving threats on the field.

That point probably can't be stressed enough. If Harsin needs to go with a spread look, the only running back who can be projected as filling that role in 2012 is Johnathan Gray.

In those looks, Gray will also be a legitimate threat out of the backfield, as he is effective in the screen game and also showed off his receiving ability in the Under Armour game with a twisting catch down the sidelines that showed off his body control and his good hands. Unfortunately, the play was called back due to holding by Curtis Riser, but the point is that Gray isn't just a one-dimensional back.

Two minor concerns. One, Gray isn't the best at moving the pile and doesn't project as a guy who can break tackles like his more powerful future teammates Brown and Bergeron. Despite his ideal build for a running back, he just doesn't have the lower-body strength. Secondly, he has had those two shoulder surgeries in high school and also suffered a knee injury in the state championship game as a senior and an ankle injury in the UA game.

However, that's not to suggest that Gray isn't capable of playing through pain, as he scored the game-clinching touchdown that broke Hart's scoring record after the knee injury against Manvel. And he showed some serious will against Lake Travis in that 2010 contest that broke the long Cavalier winning streak when he gained the game-clinching first down mostly on his own.

When the game is on the line, Johnathan Gray shows his championship mettle.

Boom.

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