Gray comes into crowded position

The freshman set several records during his high school career

Updated: August 8, 2012, 2:56 PM ET
By Carter Strickland | HornsNation

AUSTIN, Texas -- Johnathan Gray has been turning heads for years.

There are the double takes from the adoring hordes. Not to mention the whiplash for those who have tried to stop him.

[+] EnlargeJohnathan Gray
AP Photo/Jack PlunkettJohnathan Gray owns a litany of Texas and national high school records.
But it was something not involving the football, a carry or even a touchdown that made Texas' Mason Walters stop and take notice.

"You go by the film room and you see him in there," the junior lineman said. "You go by the weight room and you see him in there. You are like, 'All right, I see.'

"It's going to be important to him and he wants to be good. The thing you worry about is out of high school, any time some kid comes in highly touted, you're sitting back thinking, 'OK it's going to get to him.' That's not with Gray. He only wants to be as good as he can be and is not worried about anyone else's expectations."

That doesn't mean there aren't expectations. Gray came into the Longhorns program as the top running back in the nation. Through four years at Aledo (Texas) High, Gray rushed for 10,889 yards, had 189 TDs, another 16 scores on receptions, and helped the team to three consecutive state titles.

"You can tell he's going to be good," said Texas safety Kenny Vaccaro.

Yeah, no kidding.

But what is hard to pinpoint now is just how quickly Gray might become good at this level. Or whether he is going to get the carries required to be good.

Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron are both back for Texas. They were the team's No. 1 and No. 2 rushers a year ago, respectively. As Gray comes into the fold the worry is that Texas will not have enough carries to satisfy the three backs.

It's not a worry for Texas coach Mack Brown. He only needs to point to the 2011 Missouri game. Texas went into that game with three running backs on the sidelines. Two, Brown and Bergeron, were unable to go because of nagging injuries. The third, Fozzy Whittaker, was injured in the first quarter.

The Texas run game, which had flourished in the two previous weeks, floundered down the stretch as did the Longhorns who lost three of their last four regular season games.

So Mack Brown has no issues with the depth of talent or the worry of splitting carries. Neither do others, like quarterback Case McCoy. Instead, like most, he is curious to see how it will work.

"We've got three of the best running backs, not just in the Big 12, but in the country," McCoy said. "With having the three of them in the same room it's going to be interesting how we make it work."

"We all trust and we all know that we are going to find a way to make it work."

[+] EnlargeMalcolm Brown
AP Photo/Eric GayMalcolm Brown was the Longhorns' leading rusher despite missing time with a foot injury.
It will only work if the trio of running backs do something none of them has done before -- give up carries. Even last year, Malcolm Brown was far and away the workhorse of the running game. He had 100 more carries than Bergeron, 172 to 72. (Gray carried the ball 1,218 times in high school. Or about 20 times per game over four years.)

In all, Texas had 589 rushes last year -- 62 percent of the plays from scrimmage. Mack Brown is adamant about the offense being more balanced and as such would like the running game to only be about 50 to 55 percent of the offense. If he gets his wish, and that is a big if at this point, that means the number of rushes will probably not exceed last year's total.

Running backs accounted for 442 rushes in 2011.

So it is plausible that there are about 400 carries available for Brown, Bergeron and Gray. There could be more or less depending on Hills' role, how may quarterback rushers there are and the role of the fullback as well as other various speed sweeps performed by Daje Johnson, Marquise Goodwin and D.J. Monroe, who had 48 touches in 2011.

Given those numbers (and assuming Texas plays 13 games), there should be an average of 31 carries per game available for the trio of backs. Gray could also get a few more touches through the passing game. He at least appears more adept at catching the ball out of the backfield than Brown and Bergeron. Those two combined for three receptions in 2011.

All that math adds up to one thing -- egos will have to be put aside. That is the message already being preached by the veteran offensive players.

"It's not just individually how many carries can I get," McCoy said about the running backs. "It's more of a team goal and we're looking forward to the outcome in the long run."

It appears that is what Gray is in this for -- the long run. According to his father, James, the freshman doesn't need 20 carries a game as a freshman to be satisfied.

"This first year I am hoping for somewhere in the range of 10-15 [carries per game], if that," James Gray said.

A manageable start and humble approach. That seems fitting for the freshman who has already begun to turn the heads of the Longhorns veterans.

"You see some good things with him," Walters said.

Carter Strickland | email

Reporter, HornsNation