VYPE DFW INFO
VYPE DFW MEDIA
VYPE DFW SITES
VYPE USA SITES
Inside the Recruiting of Johnathan Gray
May 6, 2011VYPE MAGAZINE - Fort Worth
By David McNabb
Several times in the last year, Tonya and James Gray repeated the same conversation.
“So,” Tonya would ask. “Do you know where he’s going?”
“No,” James would always answer. “Let’s call him in and ask.”
Such was the family ritual of Aledo running back Johnathan Gray, who officially committed to Texas on the eve of his 18th birthday on April 22. Because Johnathan is one of the nation’s top prospects of the Class of 2012, his recruiting turned into a nearly year-long news cycle voraciously followed by college football fans across the country.
When James Gray texted out a message to recruiting media just before midnight on April 21, it was only moments before the news was circulating through dozens of websites. Nearly two dozen reporters, cameramen and photographers were on hand for a formal announcement the next day in the Aledo indoor practice facility. Texas co-offensive coordinator Major Applewhite just happened to be on the field watching that morning’s off-season football program workout for the Bearcats.
The Grays had known something of the size, scope and interest of college football. After all, James was an All-American running back at Texas Tech who was a star player at Fort Worth Trimble Tech, but few can be ready for recruiting in the age of Internet.
“Times have changed,” James said. “I think there were four people around when I signed with Tech.”
During the last three years, the Grays learned not to be surprised by the amount, scope and attention paid to the smallest detail about Johnathan. All of which would be interpreted as a clue to where he would commit to play college football. James tried to keep some sanity amidst the daily dozens of the information requests by periodically sending out texts for updates.
But any observation, thought or theory about Johnathan’s decision became part of the process as it made its way around dozens, if not hundreds, of websites and Internet message boards casting 24-hour nets for any bit of information and not spending much time sifting through facts or fiction.
“He’s wearing Texas wristbands. Johnathan smiled the whole time at the TCU practice. Both his parents went to Tech, he has to go there. Johnathan has good friends going to Texas A&M. He likes Texas’ coaching changes. He doesn’t like Texas’ coaching changes.”
Finally, on Tuesday, April 19, Tonya and James got the answer to their question. Along the way, we learned the Gray's favorite Austin restaurant, which Longhorns' player was most influential in the decision and why watching TCU play actually helped Texas' recruiting.
In looking back at the process, Johnathan and his parents have broad- and thin-brush memories about the factors which led to the final decision. Johnathan narrowed his list to five colleges – Texas, TCU, Texas A&M, Oklahoma and Texas Tech – in the summer before his junior season. But it all started with one letter.
“I got my first from the University of Oklahoma,” Johnathan said. “I was just a sophomore and it was the basic stuff – just about having a good season. But then I started thinking, “Let’s see how many of these I can get.”
The letters soon would become all but overwhelming for the Aledo school mailbox of Bearcats coach Tim Buchanan. The recruiting attention swelled as did Johnathan’s and the program’s success. With power and speed, there have been prospect evaluation comparisons to former Texas high school stars Adrian Peterson and Cedric Benson. Former Oklahoma and Texas running backs stars, respectively, who have also been first-round NFL draft picks.
There has been two Class 4A state championships for Aledo and Gray breaking a nearly 60-year-old state single-season touchdown record as he totaled 59 in 2010 capped off with a high school football-lore making eight touchdowns in the Class 4A Division II state final victory over La Marque before more than 20,000 at Cowboys Stadium.
And then there have been the college visits.
The Grays narrowed the prospective list to Texas, TCU and A&M at the beginning of the year. The family made unofficial recruiting visits to each campus from January through March. Each was much chronicled with a lot of speculation about the prospects of each school. But the Grays definitely did everything they could to keep Johnathan’s recruiting plain vanilla amidst the media hype.
Each campus visit was followed by a gracious text about how well the trip went and how well the family was treated. Johnathan would be back at school on Monday. And everybody, including mom and dad it turns out, was left wondering how each visit was impacting Johnathan.
Tonya – still holding out some hope for her alma mater Texas Tech at the time – admits to liking Austin on their visits.
“It’s big, but it still feels like a small place,” Tonya said.
Once Johnathan made his decision, the Grays felt much freer about giving out specifics which could – and would – have been extrapolated quickly during the recruiting process.
Some post-recruiting information that’s good to know now: The Gray’s favorite Austin restaurant is Manuel’s; they’re more South Congress than Sixth Street and Tonya loves the outlet malls north of Austin. And Texas fans should really be appreciative of Longhorns running back Fozzy Whitaker.
“He represented himself and Texas really well,” James said. “He’s going to graduate and play (the 2011 season) while going to graduate school. I told Johnathan that he was someone he should look at for doing it the right way. I think getting to meet with him made a big difference.”
As momentum swung toward Texas, even the family watching TCU play turned into an asset for the Longhorns. The Horned Frogs established themselves as a Top 10 program during the last two years and warranted attention from the type of highly recruited running back the program simply wouldn’t have gotten five years ago – no matter how close Aledo is to the TCU campus. While TCU Coach Gary Patterson and staff made a strong impression, it turns out the Grays watching TCU play nationally ranked Boise State actually helped the Longhorns.
“I remember seeing that Boise State offense and thinking how well they use the players they have,” James said. “I really liked it. And then the coach (Boise State offensive coordinator) Bryan Harsin is hired at Texas. We already liked Coach Applewhite and Coach Harsin is great too.”
In the end, Johnathan said it was the feeling he had while meeting Texas coach Mack Brown and his wife Sally, in his UT offices. It was the storied Longhorns’ program; it was the depth and quality of Texas’ annual recruiting; it was a flexible offense; it was about multiple running backs – much heralded RB recruit Malcolm Brown signed with UT in February – being a strength rather than a threat and it was about watching Texas win a national championship while growing up in Texas.
“He didn’t make a big deal about it,” James said. “We were sitting around the house and he just said, “I’m going to Texas.”