December 15, 2011

Aledo's Gray praised as 'just the best' among great Texas backs

Is Aledo's Johnathan Gray the best running back in Texas schoolboy history?

Ken Ozee watched a lot of great Texas high-school running backs in his 37 years of coaching.

He saw Earl Campbell play and watched Eric Dickerson's highlights. After retiring in 2000, Ozee watched LaDainian Tomlinson, Cedric Benson and Adrian Peterson tear up high school defenses.

But not until 2008 did he get his first look at the best ever: Aledo running back Johnathan Gray.

"I've seen all of them, and Johnathan Gray is the best I've ever seen," said Ozee, a longtime coach at Arlington Sam Houston. "His cuts -- it just amazes me the way he can cut on a dime. Sometimes his best runs are just 20-yard runs, but he avoids so many defenders. If he gets past the line, the defense is in big trouble."

With two grandsons playing for Aledo, Ozee has been to "99 percent" of the Bearcats' games over the past four years.

"I've watched him since the ninth grade, and I've held off judgment of where he ranks until now," Ozee said. "And he's just the best I've seen."

People can debate where Gray ranks with the other greats from the state of Texas -- he has averaged 8.96 yards on 1,188 carries. Those conversations will most likely be influenced by others' accomplishments after high school. But Campbell's Heisman, Dickerson's Hall of Fame NFL career and Tomlinson's eye-popping NFL stats don't change their high-school numbers.

"You hear him compared to all of those great players," Aledo coach Tim Buchanan said. "He has a long way to go to be with those guys in the college and pro ranks. But I've never seen anybody quite like him with the power vision and speed and pass-catching ability he has. And in my 29 years of coaching and in my playing days, I've seen some good ones."

Gray enters his final high school contest, at noon Saturday against Manvel in the Class 4A Division II state championship game, as statistically one of the best running backs in Texas history.

Gray is tied for the national record of 204 total touchdowns with Mike Hart (Nedrow Onondaga, N.Y.), a mark he could break easily. Gray passed Cayuga's Traylon Shead (146 from 2006-09) early this season for tops in the state record book.

This year Gray broke his own single-season state record with 64 rushing TDs, and he has more 100-yard rushing games than any other back in Texas history with 50, seven more than No. 2 Wes Danaher (Corpus Christi Calallen 1992-95).

"As far as a high school player, he's the best," Buchanan said.

Buchanan (Killeen Ellison) played against Curtis Dickey (Bryan) and other standout running backs in high school. Dickey played for Texas A&M and spent seven years in the NFL. But standing on the field watching Gray attack defenses, Buchanan sees something unique.

"I could tackle those guys, but I'm not sure I could tackle Johnathan Gray. The guy is that good," Buchanan said. "Those guys were great athletes, but Johnathan is special."

The one record that seems out of Gray's reach is Sugar Land running back Kenneth Hall's career rushing total of 11,232 yards (1950-53), which is the national record as well. Gray, who is second in Texas history with 10,648 career rushing yards, needs an improbable 584 in the championship game to tie Hall.

Gray needs 57 yards for second place for single-season rushing yards in state history. Groveton's Rodney Thomas (3,701 in 1990) holds second place. Hall is No. 1 with 4,045 in 1953.

But even Hall's records might have been Gray's if most of Aledo's games weren't blowout wins.

"A lot of people don't realize that he has not played that much in most games," Ozee said. "For most of his games, he has played about a half or three quarters. He's never been allowed to stay out there a whole game. He could have gone for 500-plus yards in lots of games. I can remember just one game where he was on the field almost every play, and that was against Lake Travis last year."

Retired coach Bill Keith was the defensive coordinator for Arlington Sam Houston in 1973 when the Texans lost to Campbell and Tyler John Tyler in the semifinals.

"Earl would just run over you," Keith said. "Johnathan can run around you or run over you."

Ozee said he doesn't think Gray has reached his potential, a scary thought for teams that will face Gray and the Longhorns next year.

"He has NFL Hall of Fame ability, talent and drive," Ozee said. "He's just special."

Brent Shirley, 817-390-7760

Twitter: @bshirley08

Texas royalty

A look at the career numbers for running back Johnathan Gray and other Texas high school legends:






Johnathan Gray





Kenneth Hall

Sugar Land




Earl Campbell





Billy Sims





Eric Dickerson





Cedric Benson

Midland Lee




Adrian Peterson





Jaquizz Rodgers

Lamar Consolidated




Traylon Shead





4A Division II State Championship

Aledo (13-2) vs. Manvel (15-0), Noon Saturday,

Cowboys Stadium, TV: FSSW

*Also had 48 two-point conversions. Total points

Related content



Sports Videos