NCF Nation: Arthur Ray Jr.

3-point stance: Courageous Spartans

December, 20, 2011
12/20/11
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1. Michigan State fifth-year senior Arthur Ray Jr., spent the 2009 and 2010 seasons fighting bone cancer in his left leg. After spending nearly two years on crutches, Ray returned to play in three games this season. The Football Writers Association of America named Ray the winner Monday of the Discover Orange Bowl-FWAA Courage Award. Someone should create an award for Spartans; left guard Joel Foreman, who gave up his streak of 22 straight starts so that Ray could start the 2011 opener against Youngstown State.

2. Former ESPN announcer Craig James announced Monday that he is running in the Republican primary for the 2012 U.S. Senate in Texas. If the former SMU tailback is elected, he will join a very short list of senators who played college football. Sen. Joe Manchin (D.-W.Va.) went to West Virginia on a football scholarship but got hurt. Former senators John Culver of Iowa and the late Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts were teammates at Harvard. I know I must be missing others. Let me know at Ivan.Maisel@espn.com.

3. Coaches love to use bowl practices as a pre-spring practice for next season. At Boise State, for example, sophomore Joe Southwick and freshman Grant Hedrick prepared for replacing Kellen Moore, the winningest quarterback in FBS history. Brent Pease, the Broncos’ quarterback coach, said he must figure out what they know and how well they know it. “What [will] they understand in the heat of the moment?” Pease asked. “None of them have really been [in when] the game’s on the line.”

Weekend rewind: Big Ten

November, 21, 2011
11/21/11
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Saw you so much clearer, once you were in my rear-view mirror.

Team of the week: Michigan. The Wolverines flexed their muscles and blew out Nebraska 45-17 in their best performance and arguably biggest win of the season. Michigan is now the Big Ten's best hope for an at-large BCS bid. Michigan State sure liked what happened in Ann Arbor this week, too.

Game of the week: Penn State 20, Ohio State 14. Ultimately, this game had no bearing on the Big Ten title race, but try telling these two teams that. In a week without many thrillers, the Nittany Lions and Buckeyes played an old-school, physical game that featured no second-half points but plenty of hold-your-breath moments. Given the backdrop of what Penn State had been dealing with back home, it was far from meaningless.

[+] EnlargeJustin DuVernois
Bradley Leeb/US PresswireIllini punter Justin DuVernois is tackled by Wisconsin's Conor O'Neill after a game-changing fumbled snap Saturday.
Biggest play: Illinois led Wisconsin 14-0 in the second quarter when punter Justin Duvernois dropped the ball after catching the snap. The Badgers' Conor O'Neill tackled him at the 2-yard line to set up a Montee Ball touchdown run and finally give Wisconsin some momentum. Who knows how the game would have unfolded differently had the Illini taken a 17-0 lead into half instead of 17-7. And for a team that had special-teams breakdowns in losses to Michigan State and Ohio State, it was good for Wisconsin to get one back in the kicking game.

Best call: Lions turning into Wildcats. Interim coach Tom Bradley and his staff decided to use Curtis Drake and Bill Belton in the Wildcat formation against Ohio State, something Penn State hadn't shown much of all season. By the time the Buckeyes adjusted to it, Penn State had piled up 254 yards and 20 points in the first half. The defense did the rest in the second half. Question: Would the Nittany Lions have used that kind of creativity if Joe Paterno was still the head coach?

Toughest call: Robert Marve's touchdown-no-fumble near the end of the Purdue-Iowa game. The Boilers quarterback scrambled and dived for the end zone with 1:27 left in the game, losing the ball just as he hit the pylon. The officials on the field ruled it a touchdown, which would have cut the lead to 31-27 with an extra point giving Purdue a chance to get within a field goal. But after a review, the play was ruled a lost fumble in the end zone, which gave the ball to Iowa and basically ended the game.

Boilermakers coach Danny Hope brought a still picture of the play to his Sunday media briefing, saying it showed Marve's hand hitting the pylon and the ball out of bounds. Other angles and replays seemed to validate the replay officials' ruling. You can watch the video of it here at the 1:40 mark. Either way, Purdue simply made too many mistakes in the game to be whining about one call, no matter how crucial it was.

Big Men on Campus (Offense): Wisconsin's Ball and Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson. Ball had career highs in rushes (38) and yards (224) and scored three more touchdowns, becoming just the fifth player in FBS history to reach 30 touchdowns in a season. Robinson bounced back from a couple of rough outings to account for four touchdowns and 263 total yards of offense against Nebraska. He has now won six Big Ten player of the week honors, third-most in league history.

Big Man on Campus (Defense): Wisconsin linebacker Chris Borland. The sophomore made a career-high 16 tackles, including 1.5 tackles for loss and two forced fumbles against Illinois. His second forced fumble gave the Badgers a short field to set up their second touchdown, and he helped lead a defensive effort that shut out the Illini in the second half and forced four turnovers. A special shout out also goes to Northwestern's Brian Peters, who forced and recovered a fumble and made an interception despite wearing a cast on one arm against Minnesota.

Big Man on Campus (Special teams): Penn State's Anthony Fera. He made a 43-yard field goal and a 46-yarder at the end of the first half to account for the margin of victory in the Nittany Lions' 20-14 win against Ohio State. He also had three punts downed inside the 20-yard line, including one on the 3-yard line. How good has Fera been this season? This is third Big Ten weekly honor of the season.

Strangest moment: It's not often you see an offensive guard taking a handoff and running a sweep. But Michigan State's Joel Foreman did just that on Saturday in a nice gesture from Mark Dantonio.

The Spartans were up 48-3 on Indiana when Foreman lined up at tight end and came around the left side for a three-yard gain. Dantonio said he thought of the idea in practice Thursday as a way to honor Foreman, a fifth-year senior who has started 46 career games at left guard.

"That was for every big guy out there who ever wanted to run the ball," Foreman told reporters. "I'm averaging three yards a carry, broken tackle. I think that's more than [quarterback] Kirk [Cousins] has, so I'm doing all right."

It was a particularly appropriate way to end the home season for Foreman, who let cancer survivor Arthur Ray Jr. begin the game in his place in the season opener despite his consecutive starts streak. After Foreman's run, he jogged to midfield with the ball under his arm, saluted and then came out of the game. Ray was one of the first players to greet him.

"He got the game ball for that," Dantonio said of Foreman. "He took it, as a matter of fact."
Instant analysis from No. 17 Michigan State's 28-6 home win over Youngstown State on Friday night:

How the game was won: It wasn't a particularly pretty performance by the Spartans, especially in the first half. They committed seven penalties in the half and turned the ball over on a muffed punt, leading to a Penguins touchdown. If not for a missed PAT and botched field goal by Youngstown State, the halftime score could have been a lot closer than 14-6. Michigan State cleaned up its mistakes in the second half, the offense found a little bit better rhythm in the third quarter and the defense kept the Penguins from making more of an upset bid.

Turning point: Isaiah Lewis intercepted a Kurt Hess pass with a little more than eight minutes left and Michigan State clinging to a 21-6 lead. Lewis returned it to the Penguins' 17, and Le'Veon Bell scored his second touchdown of the game two plays later to salt the game away.

Player of the game: Spartans wide receiver B.J. Cunningham had a career night. He caught nine passes for 129 yards and a touchdown. With that performance, Cunningham now is tied for the most career receptions in Michigan State history, an impressive feat at a program that has produced the likes of Plaxico Burress, Charles Rogers and Andre Rison.

Key stat: Quarterback Kirk Cousins was sharp in the opener, completing 18 of 22 passes for 221 yards and a score.

Best moment: Cancer survivor Arthur Ray Jr. got a surprise start at left guard when Joel Foreman surrendered his spot to his fellow senior. Ray -- who had never appeared in a college game before Friday -- was visibly choked up before the game when he found out he would start. Ray played the first offensive snap for Michigan State -- a 7-yard gain -- before heading to the sidelines in favor of Foreman.

What it means: OK, so it wasn't all that impressive of a victory. But it was a difficult week for head coach Mark Dantonio, whose father passed away just days ago. Some sloppiness was to be expected by the offense with three new starters on the offensive line, and things got better later in the game. The defensive line should have dominated more, and it's surprising that the Spartans couldn't manage a single sack against an FCS opponent. Bottom line: a win is a win, and though the Spartans have some things to clean up and work on, that's the same for virtually every team after Week 1.

Spring football has provided a lot of interesting stories around the Big Ten, but my personal favorite is a no-brainer. Two weeks ago, the NCAA reversed Arthur Ray Jr.'s medical disqualification status and cleared the Michigan State offensive lineman to resume practicing. It marked a major milestone for Ray, who battled cancer in his leg and only got off of crutches last spring. Ray is cancer free and participating at guard in most drills during practice while he eyes the ultimate goal: suiting up for the Spartans in a game.

I caught up with Ray this week to talk about his amazing comeback.

Arthur Ray Jr.
Matthew Mitchell, MSU Athletic CommunicationsArthur Ray Jr. looks forward to the day he puts on the green and white in a game.
What has it been like to be back out there practicing?

Arthur Ray: It's going great. I've been waiting for this for a long time.

When did you feel like this was real? Was it being on the practice field again? Getting the clearance from the doctors?

AR: It didn't hit me until I really walked on the field. It's a feeling I can't even describe. It was great, one of the best days of my life. I got the [medical] clearance in January, so I just waited for everything. It was a dream come true. I always knew I'd be able to practice. I had to wait to get clearance from the NCAA and Big Ten. I had to go through that whole process. But I knew I could practice again.

How did you find out?

AR: Coach [Mark Dantonio] called me, and I didn't answer because I was in class. He left me a voicemail, so I stepped out, listened to it and man, I just started crying. I called my mom. It was a great day. We had a team meeting and they announced it to the team and everybody just went crazy, so it was good.

When did you feel like you reached a turning point in your comeback?

AR: The turning point had to be once I finally got off crutches last spring, and I was allowed to walk around a little bit. I knew getting off crutches would be big, and I knew once I started walking that I'd definitely be able to run after moving around and strengthening up my leg.

What type of approach did you take in the weight room throughout the process?

AR: I took an attack approach to the weight room. I always attack every workout aggressively, and I wanted to take that same approach on the field. Even when I couldn't do so much, I always was going to work hard in the weight room.

What are you able to do in practice so far?

AR: Practice is just about getting my feet back underneath me, banging of course, going out there and hitting my guys, I'm allowed to do that a little bit. I'm just trying to get better every day. I'm doing all O-line drills and half-line, one-on-ones. Just none of the team or group stuff. I can't do that yet.

[+] EnlargeArthur Ray Jr.
Matthew Mitchell, MSU Athletic CommunicationsArthur Ray Jr. (73) is working his way back into playing shape.
What was it like to get hit for the first time?

AR: Great. A feeling only a football player would know. It's a feeling I haven't felt in a while. I got the butterflies out, and I'm ready to go.

Did the guys take it easy on you?

AR: In the locker room, I told them not to take it easy on me because [if they do], I can't get any better. My goal is to play, and I want to play at a high level.

What's your plan for the rest of the spring and what's the outlook for this season? Can you play this fall?

AR: I'm taking it day by day this spring, see what I need to work on all summer and go through the summer and get better and continue to work hard. If I'm up to it and I sit down and talk to the coaches and they feel confident just from watching me, yeah, we'll give it a shot this year. But right now, I'm just excited to have this opportunity.

From a football standpoint, what are the biggest things you need to work on?

AR: Getting back in football shape. I'm in pretty good health shape, and my cardiovascular is pretty good from working out, running when I could going into winter conditioning. So it's getting back into football shape and strengthening my left leg a little more. My left leg's actually pretty strong. I feel like my upper-body strength is way stronger than it ever was.

And as far as your medical stuff, are you in the clear there?

AR: Aug. 12, surgery day. On Aug. 12, 2011, it'll be four years since I had my cancer removed. I still get six-month checkups, MRIs, CT scans, bone scans. After five years, I won't have to go through that anymore. So four years remission and I'm going strong.

What has been the reaction from everyone to seeing you out there again?

AR: Everybody's just excited. I love the support I have here at Michigan State. Coach D from Day 1 and everybody, all my teammates and the staff, they've been surrounding me and helping me 100 percent.

What will it be like to play in a game again?

AR: Probably the greatest day of my life to this point, when I finally run out there. I run it through my head constantly. When I go to sleep, I dream about it. It's a day I'm really looking forward to.
Arthur Ray Jr. was in class Thursday when the news he had waited years for finally arrived.

The NCAA had granted a waiver to remove the medical disqualification tag from Ray, and the Michigan State offensive lineman who battled leg cancer finally could practice with the team. He'll start counting against the team's scholarship limit, and no player in the country will relish the opportunity more than him.

Ray went through his first practice as a Spartan on Thursday afternoon.

[+] EnlargeMichigan State's Arthur Ray
AP Photo/Matthew MitchellOffensive lineman Arthur Ray, right, went through his first practice with Michigan State on Thursday following a battle with leg cancer.
"It was the greatest feeling in the world," Ray said in comments released through Michigan State on Thursday night. "It felt so good because it just represents so much now. I just feel like I have to represent everybody that's still dealing with bad things, like chemo. I still remember some of my guys that are still in the hospital."

Upon hearing the news from coach Mark Dantonio, Ray "cried tears of joy."

Ray is cancer free after a rough stretch in 2007-08. He had targeted this spring for his return, and he went through individual drills Thursday.

Dantonio told local reporters that Ray won't scrimmage this spring but will gradually work toward full participation.
"You know, when you want something bad enough, there's a greater chance of you getting it done," Dantonio said. "I think it's an example to a lot of people that are going through a lot of tough times in their life, that if they can just persevere, good things can happen for them. Because this guy, he's had four, five, six operations. He was on crutches for two years. You know, there was a lot of doubt whether he was gonna be able to walk again, let alone play football."

Quarterback Kirk Cousins shared his reaction when Ray returned to the practice field.
"At first when I saw the No. 73 and the helmet and the knee braces on him, I didn't know who it was at first. I had to look closer and it was Arthur. So it was strange, but it was awesome to see him out there. It's a testament to who he is, his family. And what he's battled through has been more than what you'd ask any 18-year-old to deal with."

As the Lansing State Journal's Joe Rexrode points out, Ray probably will redshirt this coming season, have a chance to play in 2012 and apply for a sixth year of eligibility -- the NCAA would be heartless not to grant one -- in 2013.

Ray's incredible story will be complete if and when he plays a game for Michigan State. But Thursday was a huge moment for the Spartans' offensive lineman.

"I'm using spring ball to get my feet back underneath me," Ray said. "I went out there today and did a few drills, a little bit of hitting. It felt great. I'm not that far off, I just have to keep working."

After what Ray has been through, you know he will.
The drive from State College to Pittsburgh isn't my favorite trek, but I had a smile on my face for much of the way after learning the good news out of East Lansing.

Michigan State offensive lineman Arthur Ray Jr. just took a big step in his incredible comeback from cancer. The NCAA approved Ray to begin practicing with the team, granting him a waiver. Ray previously had been medical disqualified, a designation that ensured Michigan State didn't have to count him against its scholarship limit.

I wrote about Ray's inspirational comeback from leg cancer in 2009, and he's one of the most impressive people I've ever covered. After several health setbacks, he made this spring a goal to return, and he has achieved it.

All Big Ten fans should be rooting for this guy to fulfill his dream of suiting up for Michigan State this fall. I look forward to catching up with Arthur next week in East Lansing.

Just a great end to the day!

Big Ten lunch links

April, 20, 2009
4/20/09
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Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Four spring games in the books, six more on tap this week (no spring game this year for Iowa).

A big helping of links for you today. 

"I have this favorite quote: 'Never give up on anything that you're going to think about the rest of your life,'" Ray said. "If I quit football, I'll be an old man someday sitting in my room thinking about my glory high school football days. No way, no way."

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

The briefing begins with an item I meant to post yesterday. My apologies.

An independent report showed that Iowa made mistakes in its investigation of an alleged sexual assault involving two former football players, but the school didn't attempt to cover up the incident. The report said head football coach Kirk Ferentz, athletic director Gary Barta and others adhered to school policies. Here are the findings and recommendations.

"The university's response to the alleged sexual assault was inadequate. While the substance of the response was not acceptable, there was no cover-up or attempted cover-up and no pressure to deal with it informally," lead investigator James Bryant said in his presentation.

It looks like Ferentz has dodged a bullet here, as the report showed he never instructed two football players to move back into the dorm room where the alleged incident occurred.

Getting back to the gridiron, here's what's going on around the league:

For one big game, when a team needs to be at a peak mental, emotional and physical state for a dogfight with an elite opponent, give me Urban Meyer or Pete Carroll. Week in and week out, when you want to make sure Minnesota doesn't jump up and bite you, give me Tressel.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Taking a Buckeye breather to see what else is going on around the league. A lot of Big Ten Network news.

  • Several Iowa media outlets are reporting that the Big Ten Network and Mediacom have reached an agreement, which would guarantee that Iowa's season opener against Maine will be seen in the state.
  • Two days after Ohio State AD Gene Smith wrote a letter urging Ohio State fans to switch their cable providers to get the Big Ten Network, Time Warner Cable made a proposal to Smith to carry Ohio State games broadcast on the BTN, but not the network itself. Shockingly, the BTN didn't like the idea. The back-and-forth between the two sides is getting out of hand, The Cleveland Plain Dealer's Doug Lesmerises writes in his blog.
  • Time Warner made the same proposal to Wisconsin AD Barry Alvarez regarding Badgers games on the Big Ten Network.
  • Wisconsin starting fullback Chris Pressley will miss the season opener against Akron with a broken right thumb, but the senior is anxious to lead this fall as a co-captain, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Jeff Potrykus writes on the Badgers Blog.
  • This would be a truly amazing story, as Michigan State offensive lineman Arthur Ray Jr. hopes to play football in the next year following surgery to remove a cancerous tumor from his leg, Eric Lacy writes in The Detroit News.
  • Will Joe Paterno announce Penn State's starting quarterback Tuesday? Will A.J. Wallace and Lydell Sargeant lock up the starting cornerback spots, or does Tony Davis sneak in? Bob Flounders of The (Harrisburg) Patriot-News hopes for some answers. Former walk-on Deon Butler is in position to move up Penn State's career receiving chart this fall, Ron Musselman writes in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
  • Here are the names of former Illinois stars scheduled to attend the Fighting Illini home opener Sept. 6 at the renovated Memorial Stadium. A very impressive list.
  • I have a difficult time disliking Ohio State despite the national title game losses, and CBSSports.com's Dennis Dodd feels the same way.
  • The BCS Guru blog also likes the Buckeyes, ranking them No. 1.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- It's Big Ten preview day, so check back for updates about the league's top stories this season. If my flight to O'Hare arrives relatively on time -- famous last words -- I'll be chatting today at 4 p.m. My opening act is Illinois quarterback Juice Williams, who chats at 1:15 p.m. ET. He'll do. After finishing up a few things in Bloomington, I'm on to Ohio State tomorrow, where Beanie Wells, Brian Robiskie and others will be available. 

Let's link:

  • Illinois coach Ron Zook thinks Williams can complete 70 percent of his passes this fall, CBSSports.com's Dennis Dodd writes. The (Champaign, Ill.) News-Gazette's Bob Asmussen hands out his Camp Rantoul awards for Illinois. Wideout Chris Duvalt takes home MVP honors.
  • Investigators in the sexual assault case involving two former Iowa football players questioned the alleged victim and her family, the Iowa City Press-Citizen reports. The Hawkeyes' receiving corps is healthy and deep, Eric Page writes in the Quad City Times.
  • Indiana's depth at the skill positions has kept expectations high, LaMond Pope writes in The Fort Wayne Journal Gazette.
  • Michigan offensive lineman Elliott Mealer is struggling to regain a sense of normalcy after the car crash that killed his father and girlfriend and seriously injured his brother last Christmas Eve, Mark Snyder writes in the Detroit Free Press. Guard Cory Zirbel's injury has prompted John Ferrara to move from defense to offense, John Heuser writes in the Ann Arbor News. Wideout Terrance Robinson is also out for several weeks with an injury.
  • Greg Jones is Michigan State's best linebacker, but which spot will he occupy this season? The Spartans are still figuring it out, Andrew Mouranie writes in the Lansing State Journal. Michigan State got a wonderful surprise Wednesday as Arthur Ray Jr., the offensive lineman who battled cancer last season and is still working his way back, visited practice, Eric Lacy writes in The Detroit News.
  • Playing college football is all in the family for the Tow-Arnett brothers at Minnesota, Dennis Brackin writes in the (Minneapolis) Star Tribune. Quad injuries have dogged Ben Kuznia, but the Gophers wideout now finds himself running with the 1's, Scott Thoma writes in the West Central Tribune.
  • Northwestern hopes for a defensive resurgence with Malcolm (Arrington) in the middle, Jim O'Donnell writes in the Chicago Sun-Times. Arrington will replace standout Adam Kadela, who still stings from missing a bowl game last season.
  • Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith sent a letter to fans lamenting Time Warner's decision not to pick up the Big Ten Network and asking subscribers to switch their cable providers, Jeffrey Sheban writes in the Columbus Dispatch. Here's Smith's letter. Turning back to the field, the Buckeyes hope to regain their trademark excellence on special teams, Matt Markey writes in The (Toledo) Blade. Former Texas and Arizona coach John Mackovic picks Ohio State to knock off USC.
  • Special teams is also on the brain at Penn State, which struggled on kickoff coverage last year, Ben Brigandi writes in The Altoona Mirror. Lions coach Joe Paterno is looking for a leader at linebacker. Todd Sponsler of the 50-yard Lion blog reveals his preseason Top 25, which includes Penn State at No. 14. Bleacher Report ranks its top 12 surprise blowouts in college football history, and Penn State's 48-14 trouncing of No. 1 Pitt in 1981 tops the list.
  • Boilermakers coach Joe Tiller weighs in on the NCAA's decision to ban horse-collar tackles.
  • Allan Evridge is Wisconsin's starting quarterback, but the No. 2 job remains open, Jeff Potrykus writes in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Wisconsin fullback Chris Pressley welcomes the responsibility of being a captain this fall, Jim Polzin writes in The Capital Times. Central Michigan transfer J.J. Watt can't wait to suit up for the Badgers, Tom Mulhern writes in the Wisconsin State Journal. 

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