James Gray has known for a while this day was coming.
His son, Johnathan, one of the nation’s top football recruits last fall, would pull on a Texas uniform and go play for the Longhorns against Texas Tech, the school for which James starred in the 1980s.
When that day comes, what’s a father to wear?
“I’m 150 percent Red Raider,” James Gray said Wednesday, three days before the Tech-Texas game at Jones AT&T Stadium. “Now, I may have a little pin on that says Longhorns. Trust me, you won’t be able to see it. I’ll have on my Red Raider gear.
“That’s the agreement. This is the one time on game day I actually get a chance to wear Texas Tech.”
That shouldn’t be interpreted as James Gray loving his son any less. During Johnathan’s recruitment, his father told him to pick the place he liked the best and thought he’d fit in. James and his wife, Tonya, would back their son completely, following wherever he went.
“We wouldn’t miss a game,” James Gray said. “This is the ride of a lifetime to follow your son around, watch him progress into manhood and get a chance to go off to college and play the game he loves.”
UT coaches added another angle this week: Johnathan Gray, a 5-foot-11, 207-pound freshman, was promoted to No. 1 running back, just in time for the Tech-Texas game.
“Man, I tell you, that’s just one more thing to make me nervous,” James Gray said. “It’s almost like a setup, you know? As if I didn’t have enough to concern myself with.”
Malcolm Brown, the Longhorns’ top returning rusher from 2011, has been slowed for a month by an ankle injury. Gray posted his first career 100-yard game — 111 yards — last week at Kansas.
Time to see what the heralded freshman can do.
“It’s great,” he said. “My team is counting on me. I’m ready to execute, be what they want me to be, come through.”
Given the younger Gray’s record-setting career at Aledo High School, his becoming a focal point was bound to happen, and more likely sooner than later. Gray set a national schoolboy record with 205 career touchdowns, ranks second all-time in 100-yard games (51) and single-season touchdowns (70) and finished third in career rushing yards (10,908).
He was 10 times the recruit his father was. But James Gray set a high standard for his son to match in college.
Gray, a second-team All-America running back in 1989, still holds the Tech record for career rushing touchdowns with 52 and is second in career rushing with 4,066 yards. On Gray’s last night in scarlet and black, he ran for 280 yards against Steve Spurrier’s Duke Blue Devils in the All American Bowl, and for years that was the NCAA record for rushing yards in a bowl game.
Johnathan Gray is just getting started.
Sophomore Joe Bergeron is the Longhorns’ leading rusher 450 yards and 15 touchdowns on 99 carries. Gray is close behind with 81 carries for 427 yards and a touchdown.
“It’s kind of ironic,” James Gray said, “but the great thing about it is, just like his freshman year in high school, he seems to get better and better as the games are going on. I guess that’s a good sign. I didn’t expect for him to be playing this much this soon as a freshman in college.”
Going into the season, Gray figured to be part of a three-pronged rushing attack with Brown and Bergeron. Brown’s injury opened the door to more playing time for someone.
“That kind of sped the process up,” James Gray said. “The great thing about it is he was prepared, and the coaches had him prepared. That really says a lot for what they’re doing.”
Longhorns coach Mack Brown said Gray’s maturity stands out. That, and he’s showing all-around skills.
“He’s very mature, very tough,” Brown said. “He’s got good ball security. He can catch. He’s learning his pass protections better. That allows him to play even more.”
James Gray said he stays in touch with several of his former Texas Tech teammates, among them center Len Wright, fullback Clifton Winston, guard Mike McBride and linebacker Joe McBride.
“They kind of give me a hard time about how I let a Red Raider become a Longhorn,” Gray said, “but they’re kind of like me. They’re excited for him.”
To comment on this story: