Aledo's Gray gets 'Express' consent to break more records

10/26/2011 11:36 PM

10/31/2012 2:24 AM

For 58 years, Kenneth Hall has watched elite high school players assault the 17 national rushing and scoring records he set for Sugar Land High School from 1950-53.

On Tuesday, Hall met Aledo phenom Johnathan Gray, the latest challenge to the "Sugar Land Express."

Two running backs, separated by almost six decades in age, are linked by their incredible achievements.

Hall, 75, and Gray chatted in the office of Aledo coach Tim Buchanan, sharing stories and joking about family and football. Just two running backs -- with a combined 303 touchdowns in their high school careers -- talking about life.

"Meeting kids like Johnathan helps me stay young," Hall said of the visit, which was made possible by Aledo's Community News. "[Gray] is an incredible person, on and off the field."

Hall, who had the Aledo assistant coaches scrambling to take pictures with their cellphones, addressed all of the Bearcats briefly before practice. He had the players hold their right hands to their chests, feeling their Bearcat practice jerseys and hearts beating underneath.

"You're a football team," Hall told the players. "You have to encourage each other."

Hall's first exposure to Gray, who has committed to play collegiately at Texas, was last year's Class 4A Division II championship game against La Marque. He watched the telecast as Gray ran for one, then two, then three touchdowns.

"I saw the first few touchdowns and thought, 'I have to keep watching this whole thing,'" Hall said. "Eight touchdowns later, I said: 'Good Lord, this player is just a junior.'"

Gray's championship-game record eight touchdowns gave him 59 rushing touchdowns for 2010, breaking Hall's state single-season record of 57 set in 1953 for Houston-area Sugar Land High School.

"You can't teach what he has," Hall said. "You can't coach that. You can help players like that improve, but he's just a natural."

Gray recently set a Texas record for career scoring, again passing Hall's 899 points. Gray is still climbing the national and state record books.

But on Tuesday, Gray and Hall weren't talking TDs or records. With Buchanan; Hall's wife, Gloria; Gray's father, James; and several media members in attendance, the two tailbacks shared experiences.

At one point during a discussion about tackling procedure, Hall used Gray to demonstrate the different proper techniques, turning him side to side and showing how to wrap up.

Then the two laughed about how hard if would be for each to tackle the other.

Most importantly, Hall wanted to share anything he could with Gray to help with the responsibility that follows record performances.

"I think passing on any wisdom I can, even though times have changed, is important," said Hall, who drove to Aledo from his home in Fredericksburg. "There are basics to life that are important."

Hall has either called or written letters to every high school player who has broken one of his records.

"It meant a lot to me," Gray said. "For someone like him, who is a legend in Texas and the nation, to drive up here to talk to me and the team, it was a blessing."

Hall met Cayuga's Traylon Shead when he set the state career record for most TDs -- 146. Gray, at 161 TDs, continues to build on his state mark.

Tuesday, Hall's desire to stay in touch with the next generation of elite players led him to Aledo and Gray.

"He is a really cool guy," Gray said of Hall. "He enjoys seeing kids progress, even if it means breaking his records. He wants us to succeed. He wants more for the kids."

Hall cares about more than his own numbers.

"I want to see achievement. What I accomplished has helped me meet a lot of people and make many friends," Hall said.

With all of Gray's accomplishments, there is one national record that will be even tougher to reach: Hall's 11,232 career rushing yards. Gray must average 282 rushing yards a game, with the Bearcats going to the state championship, to break the record. Hall would welcome it.

"I love watching these games," Hall said. "Football is still about God-given talent and hard work. [Gray's] got both."

Brent Shirley, 817-390-7760

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