Texas tailback Johnathan Gray, a freshman from Aledo, is counting on the third time being the charm when it comes to his experience with the Red River Rivalry.
“I’ve been to two Oklahoma-Texas games. I have not seen a Texas win, but that’s going to change,” said Gray, who will get his first opportunity to help impact the outcome at 11 a.m. Saturday in the Cotton Bowl.
Gray, who rushed for a career-high 87 yards in last week’s 48-45 loss to West Virginia, has shared carries this season in a deep Texas backfield. He is listed on this week’s depth chart as a co-starter with sophomore Joe Bergeron, the Longhorns’ leading rusher (300 yards, 9 TDs, 4.3 per carry). But Gray (244 yards, 0 TDs, 5.2 avg.) understands that he remains in a learning curve with the Texas offense even though he was a five-star signee and the 2011 Gatorade National High School Player of the Year.
“As a freshman, you have to sit back and watch and take that back seat of learning pass protections, which steps to take,” Gray said after Tuesday’s evening practice in Austin. “It’s a learning curve for me and that’s what I’m doing right now. My dad (James) helped me with that and told me, ‘You’re not going to start right away as a freshman. You have some great backs in front of you and you have to watch what they do and you’ll start getting in the mix.’ That’s what I’m doing.”
Watching from the sidelines is not bothersome, Gray said.
“No,” Gray said. “My mindset, I don’t think that I’m a star or anything. I’m just here to help the team in any kind of way as far as cheering them on or what I can do on the field … This has taught me patience. I have to get better and better each day, so this is what it’s teaching me. I’m learning.”
In each of his first five games with the Longhorns, Gray has topped the previous week’s totals for carries and rushing yards. But he is not predicting his first career 100-yard outing will come against the Sooners. He simply hopes to make it happen.
“I just thought about my preparation for these guys … and how we can run on them,” Gray said. “This is a huge game. It’s rivalry week and playing Oklahoma as a freshman, I know I’ll get to play. So I have to be ready when coach calls on me.”
_ Jimmy Burch