The bus route in Aledo took a surprise turn Thursday afternoon.
Not just any bus, but "The Bus" -- Jerome Bettis showed up to give Aledo running back Johnathan Gray his Gatorade national player of the year trophy.
Bettis, a former NFL star running back and current NFL Network commentator, jumped an unsuspecting Gray during class.
"His back was to me, so I ran in and tackled him," Bettis said with a laugh. "I told him: 'I'm the only one who can tackle you so far.' I had to catch him when he wasn't looking."
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Bettis, along with Gatorade sports and event marketing manager Nancy Laroche and ESPN RISE writer Chad Konecky, presented Gray with the award in a 30-minute ceremony in the Aledo gym.
"I couldn't do it without my friends, family and all of the people who surrounded me," Gray said after hoisting the glass trophy above his head. "Just all of the great support from Bearcat nation. So thank you."
Gray, who led Aledo to three straight Class 4A Division II state championships, found out he was the national player of the year in December, during a surprise phone call from LaDainian Tomlinson. It has been a good week for Gray, who was announced as the Max Preps player of the year Tuesday and made the Parade All-American team Thursday.
"I want to thank my teammates for all of their support and helping us get the three-peat," Gray said. "Doing what we do best, rings on rings on rings. I want to thank you all."
Aledo coach Tim Buchanan told the crowd Gray will be missed for Aledo, and not only for his eye-popping career statistics.
"The thing I love about Johnathan is his leadership," Buchanan said. "It's hard to find someone who doesn't like Johnathan Gray ... We see what he does on Friday nights and on Saturday's during games. But that's not what is going to make him successful in life. That's his attitude."
But it was Bettis who received the biggest laughs.
"His head is on right, and he understands what he has to do. I'm a little disappointed because I didn't get enough time to convince him to go to Notre Dame," said Bettis, who played for the Irish. "But Texas is getting an incredible student athlete."
Bettis, who was selected an NFL Hall of Fame finalist last weekend, was the Gatorade player of the year in Michigan in 1989-90. But he didn't take home the national award Gray earned, whose 205 career touchdowns is a national record.
"A special thanks to Coach Buch," Bettis said. "My high-school coach wasn't smart enough to know that when you have a horse, you have to feed it. I never got the ball enough."
Gray, whose 10,889 career rushing yards is fourth nationally, joins players such as Peyton Manning and Emmitt Smith as national winners, and he has an opportunity to become the Gatorade athlete of the year. Gray will be at ESPN's ESPY awards in Hollywood in July, along with the national high-school players of the year in other sports.
After the announcements and speeches, Gray and Bettis stayed for more than 20 minutes to sign autographs and pose for pictures with children wearing Aledo gear and other fans.
Brent Shirley, 817-390-7760