COLUMBIA — By now, the ensemble that makes up one of the most explosive receiving corps in the nation is well known.
Among the group is senior standout Will Franklin, who already has four touchdown receptions this season, and freshman sensation Jeremy Maclin, who leads the nation with 214 all-purpose yards a game. Danario Alexander, Tommy Saunders, Greg Bracey and Jared Perry have also been instrumental in the team’s success.
But there is another member of the Missouri receiving corps who has been just as valuable to the team. You might not know him as well, but he has long been the glue that has held this group together. His name is Jason Ray, and he’s the distinguished leader of the group.
“He’s as good as they get,” Maclin said. “We look up to him, and he hasn’t told us anything wrong. All he tells us is the right thing to do.”
Ray has been doing all the right things for a long time. A senior from Porter, Okla., who primarily plays on special teams, Ray may not be remembered for his accomplishments on the field when his career ends. But through his various leadership endeavors, he has become a role model to his teammates and a near lock to find success after football.
To see the impact Ray has on his teammates, you have to go back to the beginning of fall camp when his teammates selected him as one of the four co-captains. The other three, safety Pig Brown, defensive lineman Lorenzo Williams and tight end Martin Rucker were selected because of their on-the-field performances and leadership abilities.
Ray had had just nine catches in his first three years, but the team voted for him anyway because of his strong work ethic and positive attitude.
“I’ve often told Jason that getting voted captain is probably the greatest honor you can ever have,” coach Gary Pinkel said. “When you’re not a starter and you’re voted captain, players obviously think that you are a team player, that you are a leader and are tremendously respected by your teammates.”
Ray was humbled when he heard the news.
“I guess it just goes to show you that even though I haven’t had those accolades on the field, if you go out there and work hard every day and encourage your teammates, you can still make a big impact,” he said.
It shouldn’t have come as a surprise, though. Ray was always a hard worker, and his parents always made sure of it. Gary and Gayla Ray both graduated from college, and they stressed to their children the importance of doing well in school.
“Education was always important for us as parents for our children,” Gary Ray said. “We always instilled in them that they needed to get more than what we had.”
Along with being a great student, Ray was also a standout football and basketball player. He drew interest from several universities, including a few Ivy League schools. He also worked out with the Oklahoma Sooners, his home-state team.
He did well in the workouts, but like Maclin, who ended up backing out of his commitment to Oklahoma, it was never a good fit. Ray carefully studied his other options, knowing that once he decided on a school, there was no backing out.
“We really didn’t try to steer him one way or another,” Gary Ray said. “The one thing we told him going into it was once you make your choice, that’s what you’re going to stick with.”
Ray chose MU and has flourished ever since, leaving a mark on the university that will likely remain long after his football days are over.
“He’s very well respected throughout our football team and our campus,” wide receivers coach Andy Hill said. “Anybody who gets a chance to meet him, whether it’s the public or a faculty member, they just have nothing but great things to say about him.”
Ray has been heavily involved with the university since his freshman year. He’s helped athletic director Mike Alden with various outreach programs, and he is the current president of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC).
He was also inducted into the oldest MU secret society, QEBH, last spring.
The society is one of the most prestigious and exclusive at MU. Notable members include former MU wrestler Ben Askren, Hall of Famer Kellen Winslow and Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton. Ray said that students are selected based on their leadership abilities, service to the community and commitment to the university.
“Getting tapped really meant a lot to me,” he said. “I was surprised going through the whole process. It’s a great honor.”
He has also been busy planning for his future. He graduated with a degree in marketing last spring and has interned with Life After Sports and Mizzou Sports Properties.
Adrian McBride, the co-founder of Life After Sports and senior account executive of Mizzou Sports Properties, said Ray has done a “phenomenal job” and shouldn’t have a problem finding work when his football career ends.
“At practice he gets in early and stays late and catches as many balls as possible,” McBride said. “Even though he may not be the star receiver today, he’s still paying the price. If he can take that into the real world, get into work early, stay late if he has to and become part of the team, he’ll be fine and dandy.”
But right now, Ray’s main concern is still the MU football team, and he’s about to play in the biggest game of his career on Saturday in Oklahoma, where everything began. And even though he might not flood the stat sheets when it’s over, he’s guaranteed to make an impact. As anyone on the team will tell you, he already has.
“Football is the ultimate team sport, and I’m going to play my part,” he said. “I’m going to do well in my special teams, and when I’m out there at receiver, I’m going to go hard 100 percent. And when the ball comes my way, I’m going to make plays.”