For once, Aledo running back Johnathan Gray was the one with a dumbfounded look.
Gray, who has made a habit out of mixing up defenders, didn’t know what was about to happen. All he knew was someone “special” wanted to talk to him on the phone at the Aledo indoor practice facility Tuesday morning after the team’s workout.
Then former Texas high-school standout and current NFL player Ladainian Tomlinson said hello and broke the good news: Gray is the Gatorade National Football Player of the Year.
“We were practicing, and we started seeing all of these people coming in,” Gray said after getting off the phone. “We didn’t know what was going on. It’s overwhelming. I didn’t know who was on the phone, and it was shocking when I found out it was LT. It was a great thing.”
Tomlinson spoke with Gray and the Aledo players for about 10 minutes, with the conversation playing on a sound system, answering questions and giving out advice to the team. The Bearcats (12-2) are preparing to play Corsicana (13-1) on Friday for a chance to advance to a third straight Class 4A Division II state championship game.
“I know Corsicana always had a lot of speed. Do they still have that speed out there?” asked Tomlinson, who played University High School in Waco and TCU. “Where you guys are going to win the game is on the practice field. Remember that. Good luck.”
As his parents, coaches and teammates watched and listened, Gray chatted with LT.
Gray was named the state's Gatorade Football player of the year in November, his second straight year to receive that honor. He currently holds multiple rushing records, and he is poised to break several others including Texas single-season scoring and single-season rushing marks and national scoring records.
The 5-foot-10, 202-pound senior has rushed for 3,427 yards and 59 touchdowns on 295 carries entering the postseason round of four. He also hauled in 22 receptions for 458 yards and five scores through 14 games. Gray set state records in career touchdowns, career points, career 100-yard games and single-season rushing touchdowns.
He became the third prep athlete in state history to eclipse 10,000 career rushing yards.
Gray has verbally committed to play college football at Texas.
“I always want to share my accomplishments with my teammates,” Gray said. “They mean a lot. They aren’t just my awards, they are my team’s.”
Tomlinson told Gray playing in the NFL was always his dream.
“I pushed myself, and I worked hard,” Tomlinson said. “You have to push yourself past your limits to accomplish your goals sometimes ... You are doing it the right way. With your teammates, having fun, and winning games. Your character, and the way you treat people is what they will remember.”
Texas co-offensive coordinator Major Applewhite was in Aledo Tuesday morning as well, watching Gray practice.
Gatorade officials couldn’t make a presentation in person because of UIL rules, but they will have a formal reception for Gray some time in January. Former Gatorade high-school national players of the year include USC QB Matt Barkley, Emmitt Smith and Peyton Manning.