Missouri junior defensive end Shane Ray said it felt like a Hollywood-concocted dream.
Ray broke the Tigers’ single-season sack record with his 12th of the season on the final defensive snap in a 20-10 win Nov. 1 against Kentucky.
Working his way toward the family seating section at Memorial Stadium, Ray spotted his mother, Sebrina Johnson.
“I looked up and there’s my mom walking down crying, so I just hopped over the wall and gave her a big hug,” Ray said. “It was just a crazy moment, because, of course, my mom knows everything that we’ve been through together. Just to share that and see her right after the game, it was kind of like a movie.”
Of course, it’s not exactly an ending.
Ray stands alone atop the MU single-season sack chart — passing Aldon Smith (2009) and Michael Sam (2013), who had shared the record at 11 1/2.
“I talked to Mike the night of breaking the record,” Ray said. “He just told me congratulations and he was proud and good job.”
Ray, who also heard congratulations from former Tigers defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson, now has three games remaining in the regular season plus a bowl game and possibly even a return to the SEC Championship Game to put the record at a nearly unreachable place.
“That’s a pretty big deal,” Tigers defensive line coach Craig Kuligowski said. “It’s the middle of the season, so we’re kind of focused on what’s next. His focus is to try and put it in a place where nobody else can reach it. … There have been a lot of good guys come through here and a lot of great players go on and do great things in the NFL. To be able to, after nine games, get to the sack record … is a pretty special thing.”
Ray gets his first chance to extend that record at 6:30 p.m. Saturday against Texas A&M at Kyle Field in College Station, Texas.
“I definitely want to push it as high as it can go,” said Ray, who projects as a first-round pick — perhaps even a top-10 selection — if he opts to enter the NFL Draft after the season. “I want to see, of course, how far I can do this. Right now, the SEC sack record I heard is 15 and that’s a good goal to have now, just continue to have something to strive for.”
The NCAA did not officially begin tracking defensive statistics until 2000, so the SEC record for sacks is 15 by Mississippi State’s Willie Evans in 2005.
But former Alabama star and Chiefs great Derrick Thomas recorded 27 sacks in 1988 and 18 in 1987, while Mississippi State’s Billy Jackson was credited with 17 sacks in 1980 and 15 in 1981.
Tennessee’s Reggie White also had 15 sacks in 1983.
The SEC recognizes all those numbers unofficially and, while Thomas’ mark probably isn’t attainable, perhaps 20 sacks isn’t out of the question for Ray, who has two sacks in five of the Tigers’ nine games this season.
Missouri coach Gary Pinkel sure wouldn’t bet against him.
“Shane is such a great competitor,” Pinkel said. “He’s one of the great competitors I’ve ever been around. I’d put him in my top five since I’ve been coaching.”
The Aggies have a reshuffled offensive line with sophomore right tackle Germain Ifedi unavailable.
A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said Wednesday that he’d shift star left tackle Cedric Ogbuehi to the right side, because senior Jarvis Harrison is more comfortable on the left side.
The Tigers will be without senior strong safety Braylon Webb for the first half and sophomore cornerback Aarion Penton remains suspended indefinitely, which puts an even greater emphasis on getting to Aggies freshman quarterback Kyle Allen as a way to aid the depleted secondary.
“That’s always our goal — to attack the quarterback as viciously as we can,” Ray said. “We understand that they’re a high-pass team and they want to get the ball out there, so we definitely have to make it as uncomfortable as possible for their quarterback.”