May 29, 2012
As millions of Americans celebrated Memorial Day this weekend, 22 freshmen arrived on campus in their quest to make their mark as members of the Texas Longhorn football team. They now join the six early enrollees to complete the 28-member 2012 recruiting class.
With hope in their hearts, a few butterflies in their stomachs and families in tow, each new Longhorn waited patiently as they were checked into their dorm rooms and received quick instructions about dorm rules and campus life.
The experience will be life altering for the recruits and especially for the proud parents and siblings they leave behind.
"It's kind of bittersweet," said Tonya Gray, mother of running back Johnathan Gray, about dropping her son off on Monday. "I'm happy that he's down here. I'm sad that he's leaving us, but I'm excited. I'm not real tearful. Dad on the other hand is tearful."
"Probably on the ride back," explained James Gray about when the reality of leaving his only child at college will hit him. "And once we get home and he won't be there for curfew. You know he's got a curfew, and so we're used to seeing him every night. So probably on the way back and once the night hits."
"And tomorrow's another day. He just won't be there," Gray added resolutely.
For Laquitha and Morlon Johnson, parents of wide receiver Marcus Johnson, the sadness of leaving their eldest son is tempered by the confidence they have in his ability to endure and grow as a young man.
"Marcus has been excited, and he's been ready for this, so I'm just ready for him to start the next level of his life," said Laquitha Johnson. "He's our first, so it will be an experience for us - it's our first time going through it. He's been a great kid, so he's made it easy for us."
"Marcus doesn't turn 18 until August fifth, so he's kind of young," added Morlon Johnson, "but there's no doubt in my mind that he's going to do well. He understands what kind of opportunity he has in front of him, and he is a very passionate kid. He loves football. He promised me that he's going to get his degree. I'm going to hold him to that. But I think he's going to be fine as far as his overall development as a man. He'll be fine.
"Like I said, he's in good hands."
It's those "good hands" that each parent stressed as to why they feel comfortable that their young sons will be able to find a home in the Texas locker room and on campus.
"I think Johnathan feels like this is true family down here," said Tonya Gray. "Not only have they made us feel comfortable, they've made him feel comfortable, too. And so I think that's why he made the decision to come down here. It's quite exciting. He's been excited since signing day."
"From day one, Coach Brown and his coaching staff have seemed extremely genuine, real personable," Morlon Johnson said. "Marcus and they bonded and clicked immediately, and I've talked to my son on numerous occasions - he truly loves the coaching staff. He loves the fact that they gave him the opportunity to play football and to get an education at the University of Texas.
"So there's no doubt in me and my wife's minds that he's in good hands for the next four or five years."
"We were driving home and he had other offers, but he just had the right feeling and I knew it," said Amy Jordan about her son Nick Jordan's decision to join the Longhorn family and try to become the next great Texas kicker. "He was supposed to call Mack Brown at a certain time at night and I said, `Are you going to think about it? Are you going to wait for tomorrow?' And by the end of the conversation he had already said yes. He just had a feeling he knew. [He] knew what he wanted to do."
And while each new recruit is sure of his commitment to the Longhorns, there are still some things that they cannot know and will rely on the experiences and wisdom of their parents to help them navigate the sometimes rough waters of college life.
"The biggest piece of advice we gave Nick was just to keep his head on straight," Nick's father Kelly Jordan said. "Make sure he remembers what he's doing here at school first. Athletics second. Just be a good kid and keep it going."
"Just to be patient and know his surroundings and make everything slow down for him," James Gray said of his advice to Johnathan. "Everything is going to be fast and furious, so I just told him to just take his time and make sure he pays attention and ask a lot of questions."
"For years I've told him, even since little league, that all that hard work and dedication is eventually going to pay off," said Morlon Johnson. "And sure enough, this is a huge accomplishment for him. I told him to take advantage of it. Take advantage of everything that Texas has to offer him. It's a once in a lifetime opportunity. There are thousands of kids that would love to be in his situation right now. Don't take it for granted. Keep working hard. Everything that has got him to this point, just keep doing that."
"He's a good kid," Johnson added about Marcus. "There's no doubt in my mind he's going to take full advantage of this opportunity, and we're all looking forward to seeing him grow as a man and just see his overall development."
"Just to go out, have fun and enjoy his college career like his dad and I did," Tonya Gray advised her son. "This is a once in a lifetime experience.
"And so I tell him he's a young man, and now it's his time to enjoy the world. And Texas can give him that experience. "