AUSTIN, Texas - - It seems fitting that a player who sits No. 2 on the all-time list of three major national high school football records would be recognized with a national award to cap off an illustrious career.
That was the case Tuesday when Texas commitment Johnathan Gray (Aledo, Texas/Aledo), the nation’s top running back, was named the Gatorade National Player of the Year.
“It means a lot. It means that my team has worked hard and that we got through a lot of stuff,” said Gray, the No. 5 recruit in the ESPNU 150. “I not only look at it as an individual award but also as a team award. I’m glad I can celebrate it with my family and teammates.”
This comes on the heels of Gray being named the Gatorade Texas Football Player of the Year for the second straight season. He was also the 2010 ESPNHS Mr. Football USA National Player of the Year as a junior.
He’s now a finalist for the Gatorade Male High School Athlete of the Year award, which will be presented at a special afternoon ceremony prior to the ESPY Awards in July.
Gray was at practice early Tuesday morning when he walked in to the fieldhouse and had a sense that something was going on.
“There were a bunch of people in there, and I was told that I was going to get a call from someone telling me I won something,” Gray said.
That call came from former NFL MVP and current New York Jets running back LaDainian Tomlinson, who played at Waco (Texas) University High.
“I’m so glad he was the one who told me,” Gray told ESPNHS.com’s Chad Konecky. “He’s another Texas guy, and I was lucky enough to meet him once when I was a sophomore. It was pretty exciting to hear his voice on the phone and hear him saying what he was saying.”
This season Gray has rushed 296 times for 3,451 yards (11.66 average) and 59 touchdowns, and has 22 catches for 480 yards (21.8 average) and five touchdowns.
Those numbers, combined with the staggering statistics from his three previous seasons, have put Gray in position to at least daydream about breaking the national career scoring record, the national career touchdown record and the national rushing record.
Two of those seem attainable given that Aledo is assured at least one more game, and a maximum of two games. The Bearcats, two-time defending Class 4A Division II state champions, will play Corsicana in the state semifinals on Friday at Mesquite Memorial Stadium. The winner will advance to the state championship.
Gray plans on using this award as extra motivation for him and his teammates.
“Winning something big like this, you don’t want to settle for less,” said Gray, whose father, James, is No. 2 on Texas Tech’s career rushing list. “We are always striving for more. This gives us motivation to go out Friday night and play Corsicana hard and tough and come out with a win.”
Gray needs 51 points to break former Michigan Wolverines standout Michael Hart’s national scoring record of 1,246, which he set at Nedrow Onondaga (New York) from 2000-03. He needs six touchdowns to break Hart’s national touchdown record of 204.
Gray is 797 yards away from breaking Ken Hall’s national rushing record of 11,232 yards that he set at Sugar Land (Texas) from 1950 to 1953, meaning he’d need to average 398.5 yards in two games to match it.
That being said, he did rush for 325 yards and eight touchdowns in last year’s state title game. So anything is possible. Just don’t think Gray will be caught wondering about the records while he is on the field.
“Once we hit the field I am just focused on our opponent and nothing else comes into play. We are just going in there for one thing and that is to come out of there with a victory. It pops in after the game, just not into the game.”
It’s going to take two games with numbers like those for Gray to top Hall’s single-season state record of 4,045 rushing yards.
Whether he breaks the records or not (he already holds several state records, which is no small feat in Texas), Gray will head to Austin as the unquestioned face of the Longhorns’ top-ranked 2012 class.
Texas fans, and presumably coaches alike, have been salivating at the idea of he and freshman Malcolm Brown in the same backfield ever since he committed on April 22. Brown was the No. 2-ranked running back in 2010.
In addition to his on-field excellence, Gray has also distributed exemplary character off of it. He is a three-year member of the school’s student council and a representative of the Aledo Independent School District Health Committee. He’s maintained a B average in school and has donated time as a youth football instructor and a mentor to special-education students. He’s also volunteered on behalf of his church’s youth group, an alcohol and drug awareness program, and Baylor All Saints Hospital’s Helping Hands Foundation.
He’s the second player from Texas to earn the Gatorade National Football Player of the Year award in the award’s 27-year history, joining former Lake Travis quarterback and ex-Longhorn Garrett Gilbert (2008-09). Gray is the 26th Texan to claim Gatorade national honors in any of the award program’s 12 sports, which is second only to California’s 57