Shades of Gray

The replay looks like some sort of science experiment caught in slow motion aimed at making your entire being cringe.

It’s tough to watch but if you’ve got a strong stomach you’ll see Texas running back Johnathan Gray’s right Achilles tendon burst as if a water balloon had just exploded upon impact.

The season-ending injury happened during a non-contact play against West Virginia on Nov. 9.

“I thought one of my linemen had kicked me in the back of my foot real bad, and I looked back, and no one was behind me so I was like 'I think I just tore my Achilles,'” Gray said on Monday. “I couldn't walk. I don't know how Kobe [Bryant] walked off the court [when he tore his Achilles on April 12, 2013]. For the most part it feels just like someone kicked you and you can't walk and your calf is tight.”

The normal timetable for recovery with this injury is anywhere between 8-to-12 months.

Bryant, who is universally known as being one of the most cutthroat competitors in the world, returned in seven months. Gray was fully participating at practice on Monday not quite eight months removed from injury.

Had Gray not gotten injured he would have likely surpassed 1,000 yards rushing for the season. He finished with 780 yards, which was good enough for 10th in the Big 12 despite missing nearly five games.

That’s all in the past, though, and Gray is not looking back. Not after the relentless work he put in to get to this point.

"A little soreness, but that's expected. For the most part, I feel great and it feels great to be back on the field and get some handoffs."

“It feels good to be back and we've been going through a long process during the summer with getting me back and getting Jordan Hicks back,” said Gray, who has rushed for 1,481 yards and seven touchdowns in his career at UT. “I feel great out there. A little soreness, but that's expected. For the most part, I feel great and it feels great to be back on the field and get some handoffs.”

Gray said he is about “95 percent” right now with a little expected soreness here and there. But it’s nothing he can’t handle.

After all, he has been working out extensively with strength and conditioning coach Pat Moorer this offseason in “The Pit,” a place where injured players go to work out the healthy parts of their body in order to ensure players aren’t milking injuries.

“Oh my gosh. It was every day, lifting ten sets of ten of heavy lifting in the hot sun and Coach Moorer yelling at you, pretty much telling you to build a house and dig dirt,” Gray said. “It helped us and it made us want to be back more with the team and help out teammates out. It was good, it helped us out, and got us back. You don't want to be in 'The Pit' and not be practicing, that's for sure.”

Gray said he would routinely get up at 6 a.m. for workouts to get back as fast as he has.

“I was determined to get back,” he said. “For a minute I was kind of mad because I couldn't be with my team and help my teammates out, but I helped them from the sideline trying to be a leader. For the most part I'm back, healthy, and ready to play.”

From experience, Gray knew that he was a fast healer and that a quick return was possible. He just had to put in the work.

"From previous surgeries, I'm a fast healer from what I've experienced."

“From previous surgeries, I'm a fast healer from what I've experienced,” he said. “I just knew this was a bump in the road and took it day by day and let God work on me and he brought me back. Everybody was surprised at how (quick) I came back, but like I said, with months of rehab and being in the training room constantly and trying to get back, it really paid off.”

Gray’s early return couldn’t have come at a better time with the dismissal of running back Joe Bergeron and then playmaking wide receivers Kendall Sanders and Montrel Meander.

Add in the suspension of the athletic Daje Johnson and seeing receiver Marcus Johnson on the sidelines Monday with a big bandage over his nose, and suddenly Texas is in desperate need of playmakers.

Gray knows it’s up to him and fellow running back Malcolm Brown to get this offense going.

Johnathan Gray.

“As backs we always feel like it's our job to get the offense going, regardless of if we have receivers or not,” he said. “It kind of helps when you lose two weapons you can use in games and they can help you, but like I said, we have to step up to the plate and help our teammates.”

One player Texas might be forced to rely on is freshman running back Duke Catalon. From what Gray has seen so far, he’s a player that can get the job done when called upon.

“We're going to need him,” Gray said. “We have to be big brothers to him. As a young guy myself coming in as a freshman, I knew I needed some older guys to help me, to show me the ropes, so he's in that same boat. He's the type of player that learns and does well and executes what he learns and I can't wait to see him on the field. As a young guy he's real good, and I think he'll play this year and he'll be an asset to our team.”


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