It Takes Two

From high school to the NFL, running backs are learning that a famous dancing cliche applies almost equally to splitting repetitions toting the ball: it takes two to tango.

That's one reason why, when Aledo's Johnathan Gray, ranked among the country's top running backs, makes his college decision Friday morning, Longhorn fans will be watching with bated breath.

After all, the Longhorns inked an elite running back in the 2010 class in power back Malcolm Brown. But even Brown has experience playing with a second, change of pace, running back. He did so this past season at Cibolo Steele high School, sharing carries with quick freshman Justin Stockton. Brown received the lion's share of the work, but Stockton averaged nearly 10 yards per carry as a big-play back, and the duo led Steele to the 5A-2 Texas State Championship.

Brown chose the Longhorns over Alabama, a school that has had recent success with a two-back system in Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson. Ingram was a Heisman Trophy winner two years ago, and rushed for 2,533 yards and 30 touchdowns over the last two seasons. All Richardson did was rush for another 1,451 yards and 14 touchdowns while averaging 5.6 yards per carry. That dual impact was apparent in the 2010 National Championship game, where Ingram rushed for 116 yards on 22 carries and Richardson earned 109 yards on 19 carries. Both had two touchdowns, with Richardson supplying the biggest play, a 49-yard touchdown run.

That's a system that the Longhorns wouldn't mind emulating. In Brown, Texas appears to have the complete package, a 220-plus power back with great vision, quick feet and deceptive speed. He certainly has the frame and the game to carry the ball 20-plus times per game. But along with that, the Longhorns need a running back who can get the ball another 15 times, potentially 10 on runs and another five catches.

Gray is that versatile back. He's not as powerful as Brown, but runs hard for his size. He also has explosive speed, arguably the one weakness in Brown's game. Gray could serve as a change of pace back, somebody who can catch the ball out of the backfield, motion out to wide receiver in the passing game and provide a big-play presence in the running game. A lot of running backs would love to score eight touchdowns in a season. Gray scored that in last season's state title game. He's electricity personified.

That's why Gray is such a huge recruit, even just a year after landing a marquee back in Brown. Because both would allow the other to stay fresh, keep miles off their legs and exploit defenses through their strengths.

A consistent knock on the Longhorns is how Texas has struggled to run the ball in recent seasons. But should Texas earn a pledge from Gray Friday morning, they'll be well on their way to doing what other elite rushing teams have done: find a great back, and then find him a partner.

Horns Digest Top Stories