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Tracking the Stars of the Future

Football Recruiting Report
Wednesday, January 25, 2012

By Sammy Batten

Ray takes path of Lewis, Allison, Stokes

One-on-One with...
(ECU Media Relations File Photos)

Bonesville features writer Ron Cherubini conducted one-on-one interviews with East Carolina offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley (left) and Pirate defensive boss Brian Mitchell (right). Links to the wide-ranging Q&A sessions:

Lincoln Riley Q&A
Brian Mitchell Q&A

By Sammy Batten
All rights reserved.

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Lance Ray once played for a team that dealt East Carolina one of its toughest defeats during the Skip Holtz era. But next fall, Ray hopes to contribute to the Pirates success as a big-play wide receiver and kick returner.

Ray is one of the major talents in the recruiting class ECU coach Ruffin McNeill hopes to welcome aboard next Wednesday as college football conducts its annual national signing day. He's scheduled to arrive in Greenville sometime next fall from Northwest Mississippi Community College, where he earned first-team National Junior College Athletic Association All-American honors during the 2011 season.

The 6-foot-3, 210-pounder used his 4.35-second speed in the 40-yard dash to make 37 catches for 704 yards and 12 touchdowns, while also scoring twice on kickoff returns of 73 and 84 yards for the Rangers. Ray achieved those statistics in only eight games.

Prior to his one season at Northwest Mississippi, Ray spent two years at Arkansas, where he was redshirted as a true freshman in 2009. The Razorbacks capped Ray's rookie season by beating the Pirates, 20-17, on a 37-yard field goal by Alex Tejada in the Liberty Bowl.

“Skip Holtz recruited me out of high school,'' Ray said. “I remember it was such an exciting game … and it was really cold.''

Ray would play a major role for Arkansas the following season as a kick returner. He made 23 returns for 518 yards in nine games, caught one pass for six yards and set himself up to take on an even bigger role in 2011.

But before Ray got that opportunity he hit an unfortunate stretch that would eventually cause his career at Arkansas to end prematurely. First, he was arrested on a misdemeanor possession of a controlled substance in January 2011 when a marijuana cigarette was found in his dorm room. The situation prompted the Arkansas coaching staff to hold him out of spring practice, a move that pushed Ray well down the depth chart at receiver.

Feeling his chances of getting on the field at Arkansas dwindling, Ray made the difficult decision to transfer.

“It was one of the toughest decisions I ever had to make,'' Ray said. “My whole family bled red and white and there were so many expectations for me at that specific school. I spent two years there, working hard to develop my skills during a long redshirt year and then putting in a lot of work in the off season (before 2011 season). Suddenly making the decision to leave, and not knowing what else was really out there for me … it was difficult.

“But I knew when the time came it was the best decision for me in the long run.''

In Northwest Mississippi, Ray found a place to showcase his talents to major programs like he had previously done at East Gadsden High School in his hometown of Havana, FL.

Ray was a man of many positions at East Gadsden, where he played everywhere from safety to defensive end to tight end until his senior season. He became a full-time receiver in 2008, making 33 receptions for 632 yards and six touchdowns. The performance earned Ray scholarship offers from schools like Illinois, Kentucky, Mississippi, Mississippi State and Missouri, but it was Arkansas that won the recruiting battle.

Because he was so new to the position, Ray was still refining his skills as a receiver while with the Razorbacks. By the time he reached Northwest Mississippi, he had honed those talents enough to pull in offers from many of the same schools that recruited him out of East Gadsden, plus Kansas State, Southern Miss, Marshall and Troy.

East Carolina came into the picture in November after Ray had already taken official recruiting trips to Kansas State, Kentucky and Troy.

The graduation of top deep threat Lance Lewis led ECU offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley to the junior college ranks, where the Pirates have enjoyed great success recruiting receivers over the years. Players like Lewis, Aundrae Allison and Keith Stokes cut their teeth at the JUCO level before becoming record-setting receivers and return men for ECU.

Ray was immediately impressed with the clear role Riley had in mind for him with the Pirates.

“From day one, he shot it to me straight as far as the role I could come in and play,'' Ray said. “He referred to the role Lance Lewis played, the Z position at receiver, and the kickoff returns. Coach Riley was very clear and there was really no guess work after speaking with him.''

An official visit to Greenville came soon after the initial contact with Riley in early December. Ray gave his verbal commitment to the Pirates less than a week later.

Ray, who'll have two years of eligibility remaining, believes he can provide big-play ability for the ECU offense next season.

“I'm known mostly for my speed, but I feel like I'm a playmaker,'' Ray said. “I feel like I can make things happen with the ball in my hands. I do a good job making something out of nothing.''

The Pirates are expecting Ray to make an immediate impact on a receiving corps that not only loses Lewis to graduation, but Michael Bowman and Joe Womack as well. He'll compete for playing time with a large contingent of returning lettermen headed by Justin Hardy, Justin Jones and Andrew Bodenheimer.

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01/25/2012 01:13:15 AM


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