Shane Ray comes back to Missouri after whirlwind of a year

Shane Ray: “It’s kind of weird for me coming back, seeing all the changes in the coaching staff and just the changes around campus.”
Former Missouri Tiger Shane Ray comes back home for the basketball game Feb. 27 against Texas A&M. The current Denver Bronco and super bowl champion came back to meet fans and sign autographs.

Much has changed in the life of Shane Ray since he last ran out onto Faurot Field clad in Missouri black and gold.

Ray, who chose to forgo his senior season at Missouri, was chosen by the Denver Broncos in the first round of the NFL Draft last April. During his inaugural season, he became part of the NFL’s top defense, watched his alma mater enter the national spotlight when his teammates stood in solidarity with Concerned Student 1950, and then found himself hoisting the Lombardi Trophy at the end of it all.

After giving it time to sink in, Ray came back to Kansas City to meet up with family and friends. He also decided to return to his old stomping grounds to catch a Missouri men’s basketball game on Saturday.

“I’ve been back for two weeks and I still haven’t been able to stop talking to people about the Super Bowl and how happy they are for me being from the city and being able to do something like that,” Ray said.

While Ray might not have been a starter, he did play a role in the nation’s most fearsome defense as a backup to All-Pro Von Miller and future Hall-of-Famer Demarcus Ware. Ray notched 22 tackles and four sacks in all competitions.

Miller and Ware quickly took the rookie under their wings. To Ray, their mentorship was vital in his acclimation to the NFL.

“(It’s been) a learning experience,” Ray said in a press conference during halftime of Missouri’s basketball game against Texas A&M Saturday. “Playing with (Miller) and (Ware) for an entire year, it’s just been really helpful for me. I’ve been able to learn and, really, just adapt to pro life with two of the best mentors I could hope to have.”

Ray’s learning experience took him all the way to the Super Bowl, something that he could hardly have imagined just months before.

“When you’re a kid and you think about playing college football one day, playing in the pros one day and, of course, playing in the biggest game there is, which is the Super Bowl,” Ray said. “I didn’t really think that I would be in the Super Bowl and playing and it happened.”

Ray didn’t just play in the Super Bowl. He shone.

In what turned into a defensive clinic put on by the Broncos, Ray met Carolina running back Mike Tolbert as he tried to find a gap in Denver’s defensive front. Ray hit Tolbert hard enough to dislodge the ball from the running back’s grip, creating a turnover in Denver’s eventual 24–10 victory.

“I wasn’t really nervous,” Ray said. “I feel like if I’m prepared enough for the game, it’s just like another game.”

At the end of it all, Ray was a Super Bowl champion. While he celebrated, the realization that he had reached and conquered the pinnacle of his sport did not hit him until weeks later.

“You know, it was for about a week and a half,” Ray said. “Then I just had to realize, ‘Hey, I’m definitely a Super Bowl champion. I’ve been able to hold the Lombardi up.’”

Ray also came back to a different campus than the one he previously left. The Mizzou he left was just like any other university in the country. The one he came back to is at the epicenter of a national movement toward racial equality.

“It was kind of crazy, to be honest, to have seen everything that happened,” Ray said. “Coach Pinkel having to step down with his situation, all the changes. When you leave, it’s like ‘wow.’”

While Ray did not share any opinions on the movements occurring on Missouri’s campus, he did share his support for his former teammates.

“I’m more so proud that, if any collective group of guys can get together, especially a football team, and stand up and make a decision collectively,” Ray said. “I feel like they definitely made the impact they wanted to make and, with them being my brothers, I definitely supported them in what they were doing.”

Ray is hopeful that Missouri can leave its dismal 2015 season in the past and work back to its status as an SEC East champion. In fact, he sees many similarities in next year’s team with Missouri’s dominant teams in recent history.

“I talked to Kentrell (Brothers) and I was just kind of reflecting on everything and looking at our class,” Ray said. “When me and Kentrell came in, that Pinkel class was supposed to be one of the lower class or not really awesomely recruited but we got two All-Americans. I think they’re going to be a good football team.”

As for what lies ahead on his own path, there is one thing that Ray is sure will happen. Sometime in the near future, Ray will receive a very big ring.

“Well, we know we’re getting one,” Ray said. “I know my nickname is going to be on there, going to have ‘StingRay’ on my ring. Besides that, I really don’t know too much about it. I just think it’s going to be a nice, big rock.”

Edited by Alec Lewis | alewis@themaneater.com

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