As a USA Today High School All-American, a two-time Mr. Football USA and the 2011 Gatorade Player of the Year, what else is there for Johnathan Gray to accomplish? I would have to guess that he would like to capture the Heisman Trophy, win the National Championship, and make it to the NFL; all three are very possible.
Gray is as much a part of the national high school football history as he is in the state of Texas. Breaking national single-season touchdown records in his junior and senior seasons at Aledo High School while racking up a three-peat of Texas 4A State titles, Gray was rated the No. 1 overall prospect in 2011 by rivals.com.
The Texas Longhorns‘ sophomore will likely be the feature back in a backfield that is the feature presentation of college football running backs. He picked up 701 yards on the ground last fall in a role that slowly and steadily eased him into the game plan for the Longhorns. This season will be a little different for Gray and the ‘Horns.
Despite splitting carries with Joe Bergeron and the ailing Malcolm Brown, Gray will be relied upon heavily in both the rushing and passing games this season. I expect less carries to Brown and mostly short-yardage, red-zone carries for Bergeron, leaving almost every highlight-reel runs for Gray.
His use in the Longhorns’ passing attack may be more vital than anything else because there are high expectations for junior quarterback David Ash this season; that will require contributions across the board, whether it be in running routes or making blocks. Slip screens out of the backfield will be magic for Gray if Ash is hitting on all cylinders. With the threat of Jaxon Shipley and Mike Davis downfield along with an emerging threat at tight end for the ‘Horns, Gray could be a dangerous addition to the passing attack.
But could he win the Heisman Trophy? If Gray dedicates himself to the idea of staying at least three years, I don’t see any reason why he wouldn’t at least be a finalist. Just look at Jamaal Charles for a perfect example of what not to do if you want to win a Heisman — or Johnny Manziel, but that’s another story. Charles left Texas after his best season in 2007, but if he had stayed, he would have been atop the conversation for the Heisman the next season. At least once a day I think about where the Longhorns would have been in 2008 if they would have had Charles along with Colt McCoy during his coming-out party that landed him second in the Heisman votes.
That is exactly what we have here this season and most likely the next one, too. A running back and a quarterback, both with Texas-sized expectations and a national powerhouse, back on the mend and heading towards the type of success Texas football fans are used to.
Could they compete for the National Championship? Well, that remains to be seen. But Gray and the Longhorns are putting all the right pieces in the right places, and with Gray leading the rushing attack for the ‘Horns, this season may very well be the right time.
Corey Elliot is a college football writer for RantSports.com covering the Big 12. You can follow Corey on twitter @CoreyElliot.