Johnathan Gray has his foot in the NFL door.
After two shoulder surgeries and two Achilles tendon tears, the second of which kept the former University of Texas and record-breaking Aledo running back away from organized football for over a year, Gray will attend the New York Giants’ rookie minicamp, May 12-14, for a tryout with the team.
Though he hasn’t signed an undrafted free agent contract with the team, which means the odds are still somewhat long for him to make it to Giants’ training camp, the chance to prove himself is exactly what Gray has been working for, aching for, since he tore his left Achilles in January 2016 at a pre-NFL draft showcase in Bedford. Gray told the Star-Telegram on Monday that he’s not just competing with the eight other running backs who will be present at the minicamp, but is also competing with everyone there to have a shot at a deal and one of the 90 spots each NFL team has on its initial training camp roster.
“It’s a numbers game at this point,” Gray said. “But it just goes to show that somebody’s always watching. I’ve just kept my head down, stayed clean and kept a determined mind along the way.”
Gray has kept his head down for 16 months, first recovering from Achilles surgery (again), and then training for a future he wasn’t always sure was there, at former Longhorn teammate Jeremy Hills’ facility in Austin. He spoke with teams through his agent along the way last summer, but was never given a tryout, after the timing of the injury forced him onto the shelf without any combine experience or Pro Day data to put on his résumé.
He finally got that chance this year at Texas’ Pro Day workouts, where he ran a 40-yard dash between 4.56 and 4.58 seconds, recorded a 36-inch vertical jump and a 10-foot-1-inch standing broad jump.
The call from the Giants organization was a dream come true for Gray, even if it isn’t a dream realized, yet. The Giants running back tandem of Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw turned him into a Giants fan during his football formative years.
“It’s overwhelming. It’s relief. It’s happy,” Gray said. “But really, it’s time to go to work. I know my parents are happy that their son is on the verge of a job.”
It won’t be the breakaway speed high school football fans in the Fort Worth area saw during his time at Aledo that gets him there. He’ll have to prove to the Giants that he’s a solid player, a useful, versatile guy to have around.
“He’s the hardest working athlete I’ve ever been around,” said Tim Buchanan, Gray’s high school coach and the current athletic director at Aledo. “His pass [protection] skills are so good, and the fact that he doesn’t make negative plays. He’s got that ability to make two yards when it looks like there’s nothing there.”
Nothing’s been there since January 2016, the lowest point in Gray’s career. The next two yards he earns in Giants blue and red will be the hardest ones he’s ever earned.
Matthew Martinez: 817-390-7667, @MCTinez817