- Max Olson, Big 12 reporter
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Before Texas begins its first season under Charlie Strong, we're taking a deep dive into all the talent he inherits in 2014. Our Burnt Orange Breakdown series will take a closer look at each scholarship player returning this fall and what we can expect from him. We're going down the roster from No. 1 Shiro Davis all the way to No. 99 Desmond Jackson.
No. 32 Johnathan Gray
Junior running back
Recruitment rewind: This is no hyperbole: Gray's high school resume was as impressive as any recruit in the past decade. At Aledo (Texas) High, Gray was ESPN's No. 2 recruit in the country, won three state titles and set the national record with 205 career TDs. He rushed for 10,889 yards, had 51 100-yard games, scored 70 touchdowns in one season, won 56 games and countless national awards. He was Mr. All-American, an absolutely unstoppable running back who chose Texas, at 12:01 a.m. on his birthday in April 2012, over Texas A&M and TCU.
Career so far: Gray rushed for 701 yards as a freshman in Texas' running back committee of 2012, with two 100-yard games and three TDs. He built on that encouraging start by taking over the Longhorns' run-heavy offense in the middle of 2013, with a six-game span in which he averaged 104.7 yards per game on the ground. He was playing like an All-Big 12 back, but his season ended early with a torn Achilles at West Virginia. Gray was well on his way to 1,000 yards and would've been talked up as one of the nation's best RBs in 2014 if not for the injury. He sat out spring ball and is hoping to be 100 percent healthy in time for the season opener vs. North Texas.
Best-case scenario for 2014: Gray, a freak athlete with an incredible work ethic, is ready to go for the start of fall camp and re-establishes himself as one of the conference's best backs. He teams with Malcolm Brown to give the Longhorns a pair of 1,000-yard rushers who stay healthy, fresh and selflessly share the workload. Gray has plenty more runs like this one and this one and chips in a few hundred receiving yards just for fun, and he passes on a solid early-round draft grade without hesitation to return for his senior season.
Worst-case scenario for 2014: The floor for Gray's junior year, barring another injury, would probably just be another 700-yard season, a few TDs and a solid contribution to an offense that remains inconsistent in its mastery of the three-headed rushing attack. Opposing defenses will stack the box, and if Texas' offensive line isn't any better than the above-average units of recent years, what should we expect? Gray will do his best, but he and Brown can't do it on their own.
Future expectations: Halfway through his Texas career, Gray has lived up to his five-star billing. He's everything the Longhorns could've asked for and more as a locker room guy and in the weight room. He seemed on the cusp of big things before his Achilles injury. If Gray is just a little faster, a little stronger and a little smarter in 2014, who knows what he can achieve? You knew he was special, but if Gray and his coaches play this just right, you're looking at a future Heisman Trophy contender.
Before Texas begins its first season under Charlie Strong, we're taking a deep dive into all the talent he inherits in 2014. Our Burnt Orange Breakdown series will take a closer look at each scholarship player returning this fall and what we can expect from him.