Aledo's Johnathan Gray is more than top talent (cont.)
Six games into the 2011 season, Gray continues to torch the competition. He's broken the state's all-time touchdown record, previously held by Cayuga High's Traylon Shead, and is averaging 258 yards per game. Though the Bearcats have struggled -- losing two of their first three to snap a 29-game winning streak -- he's showed no signs of slowing down.
Texas fans remain giddy for his arrival. Malcolm Brown, the Longhorns' freshman phenom out of Cibolo Steele High, has rumbled for 381 yards through five games. A tandem with Gray could produce historic results, a precocious two-pronged attack. Buchanan envisions offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin playing both at once, Brown in the backfield and Gray in the slot. It prompts the question: Who do you stop?
"We're gonna have defensive coordinators goin' crazy," Gray said. "I can't wait to get down there."
In Austin, it's the stuff of dreams. But for Gray, it's a distant goal. His current concern is bettering Aledo football -- and everybody attached to it.
In addition to Vann, Gray has a strong relationship with Brodie Sharp, a 27-year-old Aledo native born with cerebral palsy. A team manager as a student, Brodie remained with the Bearcats following his graduation in 2004. He was promoted to assistant coach two years ago -- an embodiment of the magnanimous culture Buchanan has created -- and even received championship rings for the team's back-to-back titles in '09 and '10. "They said they need me as much as I can be there," he said. "Football allowed me to be part of the community."
During games, Brodie sits on the field, spinning down the sidelines with a water bottle rack welded to his electric wheelchair. It's the only water that Johnathan will drink.
"That's just John," Buchanan said. "He's the type of kid you'd want your daughter to date."
Gray has also remained close with Vann, accompanying her on her daily walk to English class. They gossip about the same seemingly trivial things -- sports, school and dating. It's "teenager talk" all over again.
But it's more than that. It's also a reminder of Gray's character, one that transcends his superstar status and uncommon talent.
"He could've stopped after that first visit," Vann said. "He could've said, 'Oh yeah, I visited Leah.' But, no. He kept coming."
In 2008, Gray was set to start for the freshman team. He would spend a year developing against lesser foes, learning the ins and outs of Aledo's scheme. That plan was derailed once he started making runs better suited for video games: His forward progress stopped, Gray would reverse fields, gallop into the backfield and blow by defenders for a did-you-see-that touchdown. Then he'd do it again. And again.
|Johnathan Gray Career Stats|
"He'd outrun everybody, run back 20 yards behind the line of scrimmage and still score," Buchanan recalled. "He could do it on JV, too."
It was an unorthodox strategy, but it worked. And it prompted Buchanan to promote the youngster to varsity. He'd match up with opponents twice as fast. It would force him to learn the mantra increasingly popular in the football world: adapt or die.
Or so Buchanan thought. "The scary thing was he was able to do it against some of the varsity teams," he said. "We knew he had the potential to be a really good player."
A legend was born. And since then, he's only added to his lore. He's sliced through helpless defenses, changing direction on a dime. He's decimated the record books, accounting for 9,490 yards and 165 touchdowns. His numbers more closely resemble typos than conceivable football statistics. As his game has matured (don't lose 20 yards before gaining 60), he's secured a spot among the all-time great high school running backs. He's a Texas-sized talent.
His impact off the field is even bigger.