RB Johnathan Gray picks Texas

Updated: April 22, 2011, 4:29 PM ET
By Randy Jennings | ESPNDallas.com

ESPNDallas.comJohnathan Gray celebrated his 18th birthday by announcing his verbal commitment to the Texas Longhorns.

ALEDO, Texas -- Aledo High School junior running back Johnathan Gray said Friday that he has given his nonbinding verbal commitment to the Texas Longhorns.

Considered to be the top high school running back in Texas, Gray chose the Longhorns over TCU and Texas A&M at a news conference in front of family, friends and Texas co-offensive coordinator Major Applewhite.

And he did it on his 18th birthday.

"When I visited Texas during the spring game, I felt like part of the family," Gray said. "Knowing the atmosphere and the facilities, it is where I wanted to go. There is a great group of players on and off the field that I want to be associated with.

"My thought process throughout was to choose the school where I could see myself graduating in four years."

Gray, the ESPN RISE Mr. Football USA national player of the year, rushed for 3,221 yards and established a Texas single-season record for rushing touchdowns with 59. He scored 368 points. As a sophomore he rushed for 2,670 yards and 45 touchdowns.

The 5-foot-10, 195-pounder arrived at the news conference dressed in workout clothes after his early morning training session.

"To show you the kind of kid Johnathan is, I told him he didn't have to work out this morning and that he could go ahead and get ready for all this," Aledo coach Tim Buchanan said. "But he insisted on going through practice, which included a pretty good 400-meter run at the end."

Applewhite attended the practice after Gray had informed Texas coach Mack Brown of his decision late Thursday night.

More From ESPN Recruiting

For the second year in a row (Malcolm Brown in 2011), Texas retains the state's top RB prospect and one of the premier runners in the country in Johnathan Gray. Looking to rebound, the program is on its way to rebuilding its once-dominant running game led by the likes of Ricky Williams and Cedric Benson.

In Gray, the Longhorns are getting the ultimate load-back and one of the most productive backs in state history. The Under Armour All-American has a supreme blend of size, strength and speed needed to carry the load while still offering big-play ability in the open field. Gray has the ability to pound the rock inside with great compact strength and downhill power or bounce the run outside and turn the corner with speed. He has great yards-after-contact strength and determination that help move the chains and tire out defenses. Gray also has shown he's a tough competitor who gets stronger with carries and wants the ball. We expect the ESPNU 150 Watch List back to contribute early for Texas.

-- Billy Tucker,
ESPN Recruiting blog

ESPNDallas.com HS blog

"I talked to him for what seems like forever," Gray said. "We have a good chemistry. He was excited."

Delivering the bad news to Texas A&M coach Mike Sherman and TCU coach Gary Patterson was more difficult.

"Like breaking up with your girlfriend," Gray said. "It was a hard decision ... a grown man's decision."

Gray rushed for 323 yards and eight touchdowns in Aledo's 69-34 rout of La Marque in the Class 4A Division II title game last season -- the school's second consecutive state championship.

"The thing he kept saying over and over it was a family atmosphere that reminded him of Aledo," Buchanan said. "The big deal was Mack and Major stayed. That sealed the deal for Johnathan. He and Major have a great relationship. ...

"[The Longhorns] do a lot of stuff that we do. He has a chance to be really special for Texas."

Gray is climbing toward the top of the Texas high school record book in career statistics, too. He needs 12 overall touchdowns and 13 rushing TDs to break state records.

And with 7,003 yards, Gray needs 3,295 more to move into No. 2 on the state's all-time rushing list.

Gray needs 4,240 yards to overtake the legendary Ken Hall, known in his playing days as the "Sugar Land Express," and his national record of 11,232 yards.

Gray opted not to follow in the footsteps of his father, James Gray, a former running back at Texas Tech who was dressed in a Texas shirt on Friday.

"It wasn't tough putting it on," joked James Gray, adding that he never wanted to influence Johnathan's decision. "It was tough paying for it."

Gray said he's glad the process is over.

"All of the attention, it's crazy," Gray said. "I am lucky to be blessed with parents that keep me well grounded."

Jamie Newberg of ESPN.com contributed to this report.

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