Some of James Gray’s fondest memories derived from his playing days on the field at Texas Tech’s Jones AT&T Stadium. But they could pale in comparison to what transpires in Lubbock, Texas, on Saturday.
Gray, who ended his career as Tech’s No. 2 all-time leading rusher in 1989, will travel to the windy plains early Saturday morning with no fewer than 20 family members and close friends to watch his son, Johnathan Gray, start his first collegiate game as a Longhorn.
“It will feel extremely funny and strange to see my son playing on that field where I played,” James said. “It’s going to be a great day. I am more excited for him just getting the chance to play. Starting just adds a little bit more intrigue to the situation. It’s going to be a great game.”
His son being named a starter is something everyone knew was going to happen sooner than later, but there is no denying the irony of it taking place this week at his alma mater.
Of course James wants his son to succeed. He is, after all, Johnathan’s biggest fan along with his wife, Johnathan’s mother Tonya Gray, who also went to Tech.
But once a Red Raider, always a Red Raider is how James views the situation, which means his rooting allegiances are going to be with the home team.
“I am 150 percent Red Raider,” said James, who was inducted into the Texas Tech Hall of Honor in 2007. “I want Johnathan to play well but I want [Tech] to win on a last second 70-yard field goal with the wind at our back. I could go for a 3-point win or a 1-point win by Tech and Johnathan just does his part. That’s all I am hoping for is that he does his part, that Malcolm [Brown] can come back and Joe [Bergeron] does what he does.”
James had quite a bit of success against the Longhorns back in his day. He went 3-1 against Texas and scored a touchdown in each game.
He popped off a 20-yard run as a redshirt freshman in 1986 when the Red Raiders won 23-21 in Lubbock. He then had 1-yard touchdown runs in both 1987 (a 41-27 Texas victory in Austin) and 1988 (33-32 Tech win in Lubbock). James ended his career against Texas with a 14-yard touchdown run in a 24-17 win in Austin in 1989.
“We’ve never liked Texas,” James said. “We always play them hard when they come out to the windy city. It’s another rivalry game like A&M. It’s bragging rights in the state of Texas. It will be a great atmosphere. You always want to play your best.
“The funny thing about that is when I see [former Longhorn Eric] Metcalf and some of those guys we always just look at each other and smile and say, 'Yeah, do you remember?’ And I say, ‘Yeah, do you remember?’ It is a fun thing because you know the guys from around the state.”
Johnathan knows that his father is rooting for Tech to win, and he hates it. But it’s always been that way in their household.
“It’s always been one of those things where we have always been against each other,” James said. “It’s always going to be a house divided.”
Added Johnathan: “It’s kind of a rivalry in the house. They talk smack. I just be quiet and wait until the results after the game.”
Those 20 or so family members and close friends might not see much of James once kickoff comes around. His nerves are uncontrollable during any of Johnathan’s games.
Sometimes he’ll get so nervous at Texas home games he’ll buy a ticket on the visitor’s side and sit in the upper deck away from everyone.
“Sometimes I sit so high up in the rafters that I think I can see Waco from where I have sat in Austin before,” he said. “I will be so nervous for this one.”
However nervous he might be as a father, it won’t be enough to disrupt his trained eye from taking mental notes on Johnathan’s performance. He’s his son's harshest critic.
Sure, Johnathan is starting his first collegiate game nine games into his Texas career and is second on the team in rushing to Joe Bergeron by 22 yards despite 18 fewer carries. James sees plenty of things that need fine-tuning.
“I’ve been chewing him out,” James said. “I don’t know where to start. For Johnathan it’s more of just learning from everybody else. He’s a freshman, so he is starting all over. He seems to be picking it up pretty well but it’s just more of a patience thing.”
James said that Johnathan is harder on himself than anyone, so when the two get together they hone in on the mistakes from the previous game and try to correct them moving forward.
“Just like him dropping the screen pass or missing a block in the West Virginia game,” James said. “We concentrate on things of that nature because, like I always tell him, if 11 guys execute the play then it will be a positive job. But if 10 guys do what they are supposed to do and one guy doesn’t then that’s a problem. It’s like the game Saturday [when he rushed 18 times for 111 yards]. I was happy for him. But he still has a long, long, long way to go.”
James is hoping his son can take another positive step forward on Saturday, just so long as his alma mater comes away with the victory.