COLUMBIA — Like so many Missouri players, it seems, Shane Ray realized he had a way to go as a football player during the Tigers’ 42-10 loss to top-ranked Alabama last October.
By TEREZ A. PAYLOR
The Kansas City Star
Ray, who rotated at defensive end as a redshirt freshman, had been eager to take on the Crimson Tide’s massive right tackle, D.J. Fluker. But Ray quickly found out why the 6-foot-5, 339-pound Fluker was picked 11th overall in the NFL Draft.
“Man, that’s a big guy,” Ray said. “At 235 pounds, there’s not much you can do against a guy like that. We stalemated, honestly. We both came out of our stances, and I locked out and I was like ‘Wow, this guy is strong.’ My moves were not working.”
Ray said the entire 2012 season was a learning experience.
“It definitely woke me up a little bit ,because you’re playing a lot bigger guys,” said Ray, a Bishop Miege graduate. “Of course I’m quick, but you’re going to need a little bit of weight behind you to not get pushed off the ball. This year, for sure, I’ll be ready for that.”
So Ray set out over the offseason to gain muscle for his sophomore year. He says he worked out often, sometimes twice a day, to get to a high of 248 pounds this spring, when he was chosen the Tigers’ most improved player on the defensive line.
“The biggest thing I wanted to work on is gaining size because a lot of people view me as just a pass rusher,” said Ray, who had 10 1/2 sacks as a high school senior. “But I’m not just a pass rusher, I pride myself on stopping the run and being a dog and going after anybody: receivers, running backs, whatever.”
Most important, Ray says his speed was not affected in any way by the weight gain.
“I ran a 4.5 (40-yard dash),” he said.
Now, the key will be keeping that weight on as the season drags on, which typically becomes easier for players the longer they’ve been in the program.
“As guys get older and they learn what we try to teach them and apply it better, it becomes less of a challenge,” said head strength coach Pat Ivey.
If he can maintain his weight, Ray is confident he’ll be able to essentially replace the production of former Tiger Brad Madison in the primary defensive end rotation, which also includes senior Michael Sam and junior Kony Ealy.
In fact, Missouri coach Gary Pinkel — who said Ray has matured a lot this offseason — is counting on it.
“He is a positive person off the field, which has helped him academically, footballwise and with everything,” Pinkel said. “He’s got a lot of confidence and he’s got great speed. He’s a little undersized — he knows that — but what he’s saying is: ‘I’ve got the speed to counteract that.’ So he’ll make a lot of plays, and we look at him as a starter.”
Ray said he isn’t taking the responsibility lightly.
“We’ve got to make sure there’s no drop-off in the level of talent when Kony or Mike comes off the field,” he said.
Particularly when the Tigers get to conference play. Fluker has moved on, but Ray hopes to get another crack at the big tackle in the NFL one day.
“I’d like to see him again,” Ray said with a grin.