Johnathan Gray named Mr. Football USA

 

It’s rare to even consider a junior to be Mr. Football USA, but Aledo (Aledo, Texas) junior Johnathan Gray surpassed all other candidates because of his record-setting performances while leading his team to an unbeaten record and a repeat state title.

Gray's ability to perform at top level when stakes were highest sealed his selection as this year's ESPNHS Mr. Football USA.

Gray becomes the first junior to be Mr. Football USA on the all-time list of honorees, a list that extends back to 1970. He’s the fifth Texas running back to earn the honor. The other four are Earl Campbell (1973), Billy Sims (1974), Eric Dickerson (1978) and Cedric Benson (2000).

The 5-foot-10, 195-pound running back saved his very best for the Texas Class 4A Division II championship game, rushing for 323 yards and eight touchdowns in a 69-34 rout of La Marque (La Marque, Texas) on Dec. 17. He wowed 27,330 fans at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

"Some of my teammates were talking about the record before the game, but all I was thinking about was winning the game,” Gray said. “We really wanted to show what we could do in that game.''

In leading the Bearcats to their second straight state title, Gray broke the single-season state record for rushing touchdowns, a 57-year-old mark that belonged to a legend of Texas high school football.

Gray finished with 59 rushing touchdowns, breaking the mark of 57 set by Kenneth Hall of Sugar Land, Texas, in 1953.

“His speed and ability to see the field and make cuts make Johnathan special,’’ said Tim Buchanan, coach of the school (enrollment 1,469) on the western outskirts of Fort Worth, Texas. “But he can also lower his shoulder and get four yards when we need it, too.

“To top it off, I don’t know that I’ve ever been around a kid that was so darn modest.”

For the season, Gray rushed for 3,221 yards on 351 carries in 16 games and scored 368 points.

"We had some slumps and injuries, but we were able to overcome them,” Gray said of his season. “Every year I play, my goal is to get faster, stronger and better and encourage my teammates to do the same.''

State title games obviously bring out the best in Gray. In Aledo’s 35-21 win over Brenham (Brenham, Texas) in the 2009 final, he rushed for 252 yards and four touchdowns. In both games, Gray was named Offensive MVP.

The running back also is the second Texan in three years to be chosen for Mr. Football USA. Quarterback Garrett Gilbert of Lake Travis (Austin, Texas) and now the Texas Longhorns was the 2008 winner.

Gray seems destined to break the Texas high school record for both career touchdowns and rushing touchdowns next fall. With 135 already on the books and counting, he needs 12 overall touchdowns and 13 rushing scores to break the records.

Barring injury, Gray also has a shot at No. 2 on the state’s all-time career rushing list. With 7,003 yards, he trails No. 2 Traylon Shead, who played from 2006-2009 at Cayuga (Cayuga, Texas), by 3,295 yards.

But to overtake the legendary Hall, known in his playing days as the Sugar Land Express, and his national record of 11,232 yards, Gray will need 4,240 yards next fall.

“I’m not going to do anything different with him than we did this year,’’ Buchanan said. “I know not everybody agrees with me on that, but we won’t use him in the second half when we have big leads.’’

Aledo’s record since Gray’s promotion to the varsity as a freshman is 39-2. The Bearcats play in Texas' second-largest classification.

Predictably, the list of college football programs desiring Gray is long and distinguished. So far, he has not made a verbal commitment.

His father, James Gray, was a running back at Texas Tech.

“Everybody has offered Johnathan from all over the country,’’ Buchanan said. “My advice to him is to make visits this summer with the idea of going to the school where he’d like to spend the next four years if football was out of the picture. He’s got plenty of time to make that decision.’’

"I'm taking it slow,” Gray said. “My parents are helping me, so I'm fortunate there. I might commit before next season or after the season.''

By Randy Jennings
& Mark Tennis
ESPNHS