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December 11, 2011His legs reveal the finesse with a cut that will elude a tackler in one moment and then demonstrate power as he runs through a second.
As Aledo senior running back Johnathan Gray concludes one of the most chronicled careers in national high school football history, he's still just wants to be one of the guys.
"The guys in the locker room keep me humble and we just like hanging out and not talking about football,'' Gray said. "The one thing we've done is just getting ready for the next play and never do anything else.''
The son of former Texas Tech all-Southwest Conference running back James Gray, Johnathan's name will forever be in the conversation when high school football greats are discussed. Currently, the four-year starter has rushed for 10,653 yards. That is second in Texas' all-time books behind Kenneth Hall's 11,232. Gray's total is also fourth all-time nationally.
He holds the state's all-time touchdown record and also tied for the national record with 204, holds the most 100+ yard rushing games with 50 and holds the state single-season point scoring record with 408. On Dec. 6, he was named the 2011-12 Gatorade National Football Player of the Year.
And now, the Bearcats (13-2) are pursuing the rarity of a third consecutive state championship. Aledo faces Manvel (15-0) in the Class 4A Division II state championship at noon Saturday at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington.
But his career at Aledo didn't start on the varsity right away. Gray (5-10, 202) began with the freshman team for the first two games in what could now be considered a tune-up. He finished that season with 969 yards as Aledo was eliminated in the area round of the playoffs.
While he dazzled with some special runs, there wasn't the belief that it would evolve into this kind of journey. Now, an athletic scholarship is waiting for him at the University of Texas. Gray, one of the nation's top recruits, is expected to sign his national letter of intent with the Longhorns on Feb. 1, 2012.
His legacy turned out this way because work he put in off the field. Aledo coach Tim Buchanan recalled a story when another coach was working out and saw Gray go through a routine in which he was going through one-legged squats holding 100-pound weights in each arm.
"He looked at me and said, 'I've never seen anything like that,'" Buchanan said. "I just thought well he hasn't seen our offseason but then John does his own routine to what we do. If it was all weights, then he'd be rigid. But he stretches more than anyone I've ever been around in my career.''
Gray spent most of this past summer participating in track meets than in 7-on-7 competition. His goal was to make his legs as primed as possible.
He understands the persona that precedes him the week of the game. That's out of his control. Aledo knows that opponents are going to stack the box with eight or nine defenders. It's up to quarterback Matthew Bishop to make the right decision or for Gray to make a play.
Oh, he'll get trapped in the backfield and have his share of negative plays. But he will find a way to make a play because of those legs.
"For me, it just comes down to mental and physical preparation,'' Gray said. "Our team has been building toward this. In big-time situations, big players make big plays. I've been very fortunate to be in this position.''
Kevin Lonnquist, Recruiting Editor for SicEmSports.com, is also a member of the Aledo radio broadcasting team.
Gray Year by Year
2008 - 969 yards, 16 TDs (Highlight: Made his debut in Game 3)
2009 - 2,813 yards, 59 TDs (Highlight: Scored the state championship game-clinching touchdown on an 89-yard run late in fourth quarter)
2010 - 3,221 60 TDs (Highlight: Rushed for 351 yards in the state championship game against La Marque)
2011 - 3,650 64 TDs (Highlight: Has posted 4 300-yard games)
Totals: 10,653 yards, 204 TDs