From troubled beginnings, Ray shines

Ray’s goal is to break Mizzou’s single-season sack record.
Missouri Tigers defensive lineman Shane Ray takes the field Sept. 12 at Memorial Stadium. Mizzou beat Central Florida 38-10.

Shane Ray quit football. Back in the fifth grade, Ray decided he was done with the sport.

Now, the lineman is well on his way to becoming Missouri’s single-season sack record holder.

Ray grew up in Kansas City, zip code 64130. That’s the nice way to put it. Search the Internet and you’ll find the nickname given to zip code 64130: “The Murder Factory.”

According to crime records, the area accounts for approximately 20 percent of Kansas City citizens who are imprisoned for murder or voluntary manslaughter. Essentially, if people from the area didn’t make it big, they were written off, Ray included.

“I started getting in trouble in school, and a lot of kids in my city got lost in that stuff,” he said.

For much of middle school, Ray thought he was done with football, done with school, done with pretty much everything. He had multiple family members pass away and his parents were in the midst of a divorce.

“Those couple years, I really wasn’t doing much,” Ray said. “I just didn’t want to play football anymore.”

His mother, Sebrina Johnson, became concerned for her son’s future, and convinced him to get back into football.

“My mom was actually ready to take me out of school,” Ray said. “Luckily, my (middle school) coach had a good connection with my high school coach.”

Once enrolled at Bishop Miege High School, Ray said he started figuring things out and saw that he had an opportunity.

“My coach had faith in me and because of that, I just changed,” Ray said. “I grew a couple inches, my work ethic went up and I just started grinding. I wanted to be great.”

The shift was a dramatic one, both emotionally and physically for Ray, who hadn’t yet blossomed into the athlete he is today.

“I wasn’t the most athletic kid,” Ray said. “I was the slow kid, the last kid to get picked.”

By the time high school ended, Ray was a completely different specimen. He led his team to a state title as a junior, and he earned first-team all-state honors as a senior. The college offers were rolling in.

Aside from Mizzou, where his father, Wendell Ray, had been a standout defensive lineman, Shane Ray was recruited by Wisconsin, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Clemson, Kansas State, Kansas and Notre Dame.

It was that last team, the Fighting Irish, that nearly drew Ray away from Mizzou. Ray’s mom told him that not too many kids from the area Ray grew up in got the chance to even visit a school as academically prestigious as Notre Dame, so Ray chose to take a trip to South Bend, Indiana, to visit the campus.

However, Ray ultimately found his way to Columbia, where he felt like he belonged. Defensive coordinator Dave Steckel said he saw a passionate, athletic person in Ray. Coach Gary Pinkel was particularly keen on Ray’s speed and drive.

“(Ray) is a great competitor,” Pinkel said. “He flat-out gets after it, and it’s certainly great to have a guy like that on your defense.”

This season, Ray has bloomed into one of the nation’s top pass rushers. He currently leads the nation with 7.5 tackles for loss and is third nationally with 5.0 sacks. He was named the Southeastern Conference’s Defensive Player of the Week Monday after a 2.0 sacks against Central Florida last weekend.

“That’s one thing that’s good about college: The kids grow up right in front of your eyes,” Steckel said.

Ray’s goal this year is to break Mizzou’s single-season sacks record (11.5) held by Aldon Smith and Michael Sam.

“I have high expectations for myself day in and day out,” Ray said. “That’s where my work ethic has grown throughout my life. I feel like in 60 minutes, that’s something I can do each Saturday.”

Ray said part of his motivation to be great comes from wanting to be better than his father, who was a fifth-round draft pick by the Minnesota Vikings.

“Not everything has been great (between us), but now (my father and I) have a really good relationship,” he said. “When it comes to football, we share that kind of passion and that’s always been something that’s driven me.”

Ray also gives credit for his dominance this season to his mother, the one who got him back into football in the first place.

“If you want to thank anybody for me being here, it’s definitely my mom,” he said. “She put me in a situation to be successful.”

Even though he has already put up career numbers, Ray thinks he can be better.

“I have a hunger and I want to continue to see how far I can push myself,” Ray said. “I’m never satisfied with what I did last game or the game before because I know there’s a lot more I can do.”

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