After earning himself a starting role late in his freshman season, Texas Longhorns running back Johnathan Gray established himself as the team's premier back moving forward. In 2013, he will start his march to the Mt. Rushmore of Longhorn runners.
Despite being one of the nation's top recruits, Gray had to earn his stripes in his first season. But once he started getting his chances, Gray made the most of them and established himself as the starter late in the season.
While not eye-popping, Gray led all Big 12 freshmen with 701 rushing yards while sharing carries with two other established ball-carriers. This season he will start as the team's top dog in the backfield and, with his work ethic and all-around skill, should emerge as one of the top backs in the country.
Following are the reasons that Gray will become the next great Longhorn running back and what to expect from him in the 2013 season.
Gray's receiving ability out of the backfield is just one element of his game that sets him apart from the competition.
One thing that sets Gray apart both from his fellow runners at Texas is that he is a complete, every-down back that can play in any situation.
Simply stated, Gray can do anything that is asked of him from the running back position. At 5'11" and over 200 pounds, he is small enough to get lost behind his blockers while also having a low center of gravity that makes him difficult to bring down in the open field. Add in some 4.4 speed, and you get a home run threat as well as a ground-and-pound workhorse.
Outside of simply taking handoffs, Gray is also a very good receiver when he gets his chances and has shown surprising mastery of the Wildcat formation. He caught 11 passes his freshman season for 151 yards, using his quickness and vision to break off two for 30 yards or more. Out of the Wildcat, Gray showed rare maturity and vision for someone that had never run the formation.
Given his aforementioned talents, Texas can give Gray the ball in pretty much any situation and good things will happen. Players like that, as demonstrated by guys like LeSean McCoy, are incredibly difficult to stop and tend to get plenty of touches as a result.
These days in college football, talent is not enough. Players have to be able to match that talent with a strong work ethic, and Johnathan Gray's work ethic is among his most impressive attributes.
From the moment he stepped on campus, Gray has impressed teammates and coaches alike with the amount of time he dedicates to getting better. Team leaders Kenny Vaccaro and Mason Walters took immediate notice, and the end result was going from the team's third-string back to the starter in just over half of a season.
Hard work is what set Trent Richardson apart the entire time he was at Alabama and is why Adrian Peterson was able to go from tearing his ACL to nearly breaking the NFL's single-season rushing record. Gray has that same type of drive that will allow him to get better every single year he is at Texas.
Following Gray's conversion on 4th-and-1, David Ash threw the game-winning touchdown in Texas' signature win of the season.
Knowing how to win is a skill that some players have and others just do not. Johnathan Gray has proved throughout his career that he knows how to win, and that knowledge will allow him to become one of the greats.
Gray's national record of 205 touchdowns in high school along with over 10,000 career yards has been well-documented. But lost in all of those numbers is the three consecutive state titles Gray won during his high school career, running for eight touchdowns in his second championship game.
Thus far in college, Gray is proving that he has not forgotten his winning ways. In just the fourth game of his college career, he had 45 fourth-quarter yards in the comeback win over Oklahoma State. He also posted 147 total yards at Texas Tech for one of his team's biggest wins of the season.
But Gray's most impressive performances came in the Alamo Bowl against Oregon State. Throughout the game Gray and the rest of the Texas backs had been largely shut out, with the freshman finishing with only 18 yards. But in refusing to get down on himself Gray turned in two of the game's biggest plays, bailing out his quarterback on a 15-yard touchdown reception and converting a 4th-and-1 on the game-winning drive.
Those are the type of plays that winning teams have to make, and Gray has shown the poise to make them. With that he not only gives the Longhorns a top-tier talent, but he is the type of player that can deliver them back to BCS contention.
Now that Gray has cemented his status as the 'Horns' top back, he is poised to begin to cement his legacy as one Texas' greats in 2013.
With Texas focused on improving an offensive line that struggled often in 2012, expect Gray to find some more running room than he had his freshman season. That means trouble for opposing defenses because he is definitely going to get better thanks to his aforementioned work ethic.
Another factor working in Gray's favor is that Major Applewhite is now the play-caller for the Texas offense. Applewhite recruited him and showed obvious trust in him late in the Alamo Bowl victory. That trend should continue in 2013, with increased touches leading to some impressive numbers.
Gray will still lose carries to Malcolm Brown but that should be about it as Joe Bergeron seems destined for exclusive goal-line duty. That said, he should see the ball enough to become Texas' first 1,000-yard rusher since Jamaal Charles in 2007 with anywhere between five and 10 touchdowns. He will not win the Heisman or anything, but he will set himself up for a high-profile junior season.