During the first week of the Missouri football team’s summer practice, junior linebacker James Kinney said receiver Jason Ray was the most impressive freshman in camp. Three days later, Kinney had added a name to the list.
“I forgot to tell you about Victor Sesay,” Kinney said. “He’s real good, too.”
Ray probably wasn’t too upset about the company at the top, though, because Sesay, a tight end, is a junior.
Ray, 6 feet 2, 200 pounds, has turned heads since the Tigers started practicing Aug. 6 and is one of a handful of freshmen with a chance to play right away. Like the rest of Missouri’s impressive recruiting class, though, Ray is in the dark about whether he will be redshirted this season.
“It can be stressful, but I’m just keeping everything in perspective and going with the flow,” Ray said. “I just play hard and whatever happens happens.”
If there’s anything that can be said about Ray, it’s that he works as hard as anyone on the field. Ray’s work ethic over the summer impressed Kinney, and receivers coach Andy Hill also noticed it.
“He plays hard and is really intent on doing things right,” Hill said. “Those two things combined give him a good chance to succeed.”
As a senior at Broken Arrow (Okla.) High, Ray played in the state championship game in addition to being a National Honor Society member. His desire to learn is clear in his attitude toward football as well.
“I think I’ve been doing pretty well,” Ray said. “There’s always room for improvement, though.”
For now, Ray doesn’t know whether he will make those improvements in game situations or as a member of the scout team while redshirting. Either way, he said, his goal is simple.
“As a competitor you want to get out there and play right away,” Ray said. “You want to contribute to the team in any way you can. I feel if I’m redshirted I can contribute in other ways.”
So far, Ray has worked out mostly with the second- and third-team offenses, catching passes from backup quarterbacks Sonny Riccio, Brandon Coleman and Josh Arnold.
If Ray stays at the pace he’s on, it won’t be long before he’s on the other end of Brad Smith’s passes. As usual, though, Ray said he doesn’t think about that. He’s just working hard and doing his job.
“I just go out and catch the balls no matter who is throwing them,” Ray said.
ALIVE AND KICKIN’: Sophomore Alex Pettersen, who started last season as the first-string kicker before losing the job to Mike Matheny, has reclaimed the top spot on the depth chart, coach Gary Pinkel said.
“That competition, that’s not over with,” Pinkel said. “A decision is going to have to be made. Right now, Pettersen is No. 1, but we’ll have to see what happens.”
Pettersen has been longer and more accurate than Matheny in practice and made field goals of 32, 44 and 48 yards in Saturday’s scrimmage.
“I’m feeling real good,” Pettersen said. “I need more reps, so I can feel even more comfortable out there with the first team.”
Pettersen said he feels more confident than he did last year, and it has shown. He has been nearly automatic inside 40 yards, and he knows it.
“The only way I can miss is just getting lazy and not doing what I was taught to do,” Pettersen said.
DWINDLING D-LINE: Missouri’s inexperienced defensive line is losing depth more quickly than the Missouri River this week.
“There’s no question it’s a concern,” Pinkel said. “But other than being concerned, you can’t do much about it. We have a relatively inexperienced defensive line, but we also have a lot of talent there.”
Redshirt freshman Brian Smith is practicing again after missing two days with an eye infection, but junior Terrell Mills left the team and freshman Xzavie Jackson had surgery on a broken foot Sunday.
Pinkel said Jackson’s surgery was successful and he hopes to have Jackson back in three or four weeks.
“Hopefully, we’ll get him back,” Pinkel said. “He’s a really good, young, talented athlete that has the physical maturity needed to play at defensive line as a freshman in this league. But he also needs a lot of work.”