The five-star prospect, currently ranked as the No. 2 running back in the Class of 2012 by Scout.com, will bring an elite dose of electricity and big-play ability with him to Austin. And, when paired with 2011 signee Malcolm Brown, will give the Longhorns an influx of talent at a major need position.
"The commitment of Johnathan Gray means two instant impact running backs will be stacked on top of each other for the classes of 2011-2012, giving an injection of talent to an offense that needed it," said Greg Powers, Scout.com Midlands Recruiting Manager.
Perhaps most importantly, Powers said that Brown, who was the No. 2 rated back in the 2011 class, provides a different skill set from Gray.
"They're different kinds of backs. The one quality that they do share is their ability to lead teams above and beyond expectations," Powers said. "Both runners won state championships, led their teams to state championships and willed their teams to state championships."
Brown's Cibolo Steele team captured the Class 5A-2 state title a year ago, while Gray scored a state-record eight touchdowns in helping Aledo win the 4A title game.
"Their skill sets both translate to the next level," Powers said. "Brown is a bruiser. You'll find with Gray that he's a home-run threat, but also a home-run back who can take some punishment. He played through an injury last year, showing that he not only had mental toughness, but he excelled in putting up pretty sick numbers in the process."
So how do the two fit together? Powers said that the most popular running back tandem for comparisons was the Auburn duo of Cadillac Williams and Ronnie Brown. Still others focus on the recent success in-state rival Alabama had with Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson. But Powers' comparison for the Longhorns involved a pair of backs that Texas fans are quite familiar with.
"When you're looking for a running back tandem, there isn't a much better one in terms of two guys who could feed off each other than Brown and Gray," Powers said. "Cadillac and Ronnie Brown is the cliche comparison, but I think these guys are more like Cedric Benson and Jamaal Charles being on the field at the same time."
Cedric Benson rushed for 1,843 yards and 19 touchdowns in 2004, his final season in Austin. Charles put up 1,619 yards and 18 touchdowns in 2007. The two players, ranked No. 2 and No. 4 on the Texas all-time rushing lists, just avoided playing together, with Charles starting his career on the 40 Acres in 2005. The possibility of building a great tandem with Brown was a factor in Gray's decision. He said as much after picking the Longhorns.
"Getting a chance to work with Malcolm Brown will make me a better player," Gray said. "I also feel that having a young staff and playing in a new offense will be exciting. I feel really blessed to have this opportunity."
That statement came shortly after Gray's announcement, where he said: "I chose UT because I get a chance to be teammates with good players."
When looking at this year's collection of skill position talent, Gray's reasoning almost sounds like understatement. Along with Gray, Texas has commitments from Scout.com's No. 3 and No. 10 receivers in Austin High's Cayleb Jones and Dallas Skyline's Thomas Johnson. And the Longhorns started off their 2012 class by nabbing Chaparral (Ariz.) quarterback Connor Brewer, considered the top quarterback in the West, and the No. 6 signal caller in the country.
"Texas is supposed to have top-rated athletes on the field all the time, so it's not a big deal for them," Powers said. "Even looking at the message boards, it wasn't as big of a deal to nail down a top out-of-state player, or two of the top three wide receivers in the state.
"But looking at the players from an evaluation standpoint, they've done a really good job," Powers said. "These are kids that can come in and provide something different to the roster." Powers said that Jones and Johnson each fit the offense well.
"Jones is one of those guys who will go over the middle of the field relentlessly and pull down passes. That opens things up to have a guy like that," Powers said. "Johnson is a guy that you want to get the ball to underneath, and he'll make spectacular things happen. They're a pretty good package."
At the helm will be Brewer, whose commitment opened the floodgates, according to Powers.
"You find that all over college football recruiting. There are guys out there right now who are waiting to see where (top quarterback) Gunner Kiel goes because they want to catch passes from him," Powers said. "A top of the line quarterback helps get the ball rolling in recruitment, and I think that's what you saw with Brewer."
That talented trio makes Gray the icing on the proverbial birthday cake.
"When you throw in a player like Johnathan Gray," Powers said, "some special things are really coming together for you."