Shane Ray remembers it all, when he ascended to peaks and dipped ito valleys, when he endured the tests and weathered the uncertainties. He can trace it all back to Kansas City, where the NFL pass rusher grew up all those years ago.
That’s where he was standing on Saturday morning, specifically at the Central Academy of Excellence, overseeing his third annual Rays Awareness Foundation free football camp, which is aimed at gathering local kids and teaching them about football and life. It’s divided into two segments, one for ages 8-13 in the morning and one for ages 14-17 in the afternoon. Campers receive lunch, T-shirts and chances to win prizes.
Last year, Ray hosted the camp at Bishop Miege, the high school in Roeland Park that he attended from 2008-2011.
The location, though, doesn’t matter as much as what Ray hopes the camp accomplishes.
“This place made me, so I always bring my charities and my work back here,” Ray said, “because the city means a lot to me. This is me finding a way to give back and give a lot of inner-city kids and kids, really, from everywhere the opportunity to come out and take some great coaching, meet some good football players and have a good time.”
Ray, a fifth-year outside linebacker who signed with the Baltimore Ravens in May, has been through a lot in the last five years. He was the 2014 SEC Defensive Player of the Year and a unanimous All-American in two seasons at Missouri before being selected in the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft by the Denver Broncos, with whom he spent four seasons.
Those years were a mixed bag for Ray. He flourished in the first two. As a rookie, he helped the Broncos clinch the Super Bowl, playing in 14 total games and recording two tackles in the Broncos’ victory over the Carolina Panthers in the Super Bowl.
Ray’s stock skyrocketed in his sophomore campaign in the NFL. He played in all 16 games and started eight, logging as many as seven tackles in a single game and as many as three sacks in another. He was blossoming into one of the league’s premiere pass rushers.
But the injury bug bit Ray before long. A wrist injury sidelined him for the first seven games of the 2017 season, and even upon his return — in Week 8, in the Broncos’ 29-19 loss to the Chiefs — he didn’t feel like himself.
“I wasn’t right,” Ray said. “That’s something that should have (taken) more time, to make sure that I was good, and I didn’t do that.”
Ray paid for it to the tune of surgery. He went under the knife last summer, an effort to repair the wrist he insisted on Instagram he “didn’t re-injure,” calling it a “complication from the initial surgery that needs correcting.” Whatever the intent, the result was the same: more time healing and less on the field.
By the end of the summer of 2018, Ray had undergone three surgeries on his wrist — significant, because he uses it so much against opposing offensive linemen.
“Obviously you see all the glitz and the glamour in the NFL,” Ray said, “but people don’t see the tough times. When you get hurt, people don’t talk about you. So you go through these tough moments, and I reflect back on all the things that I experienced in all points in times in life in my football career.
“I think about, ‘Yo, those last two years with the Broncos and my injury, that was really tough, man.’ That was a tough moment in my life. But I stayed resilient. I continued to work, just putting my head down, and I clouded out all the negatives. I just wouldn’t allow any negative talk, anything about me or anything I was doing — I just zoned it out. I just got to work.”
In the 2018 return season, the 6-foot-3, 256-pound Ray didn’t do much to inspire confidence within the Broncos brass. He appeared in 11 games, recorded just one sack and made 10 total tackles.
So on May 2, Denver declined to pick up Ray’s fifth-year option, making him a free agent for the first time in his pro career.
His options were open. He met with several teams, including the Seahawks, Raiders, Dolphins, Colts and Saints — the Chiefs were not one, Ray said, laughing as he recalled how many of his friends inquired about his chances of landing with his hometown team — but he signed a one-year deal with the Ravens.
Ray checked a couple boxes with the deal: It was one year in length, and it was with the defensive-oriented team that he felt best about.
“I was looking for a one-year deal — a ‘prove it’ deal,” Ray said. “Now, it’s like, ‘OK, now I’m back healthy. What am I going to do with it?’ I’m excited, man. I’m loving this opportunity. I can only go up. I’ve been at the bottom, so I can only go up from this point.”
Ray is careful about staying rooted. That’s the reason why he comes back to the Kansas City area for this camp — which started as charitable work centered around shoe donations and later evolved into its current form — and the reason why he’s psyched about the upcoming Missouri football season.
That five-star transfer quarterback Kelly Bryant’s first season at Missouri is on the horizon doesn’t hurt, of course.
“I’m going to see what he’s going to do when the lights come on,” Ray said of Bryant. “That’s what it’s all about. I’m going to see what happens when the lights come on. I don’t feel like he’ll under-produce. I feel like he’ll be what is expected of him at Missouri.”