Thursday, January 22, 2009

Where You At?: Marcus Ray Edition

Photobucket

The "Where You At?" series returns with a look at former Michigan safety Marcus Ray.

Anyone who has followed Michigan recently knows that the Wolverines have had their fair share of problems at safety (the mere mention of Ryan Mundy or Stevie Brown sends shivers down my spine). However, the 1997 national title team featured Marcus Ray, one of my personal favorite Wolverines and a hard hitting strong safety.

Ray was a product of the same Columbus, OH high school that produced Archie Griffin (Eastmoor High School). While Charles Woodson was the more highly-regarded defensive back in the 1995 recruiting class, Ray also made an immediate impact during his freshman year. He started six games at safety, amassing 27 tackles, three pass breakups, and an interception.

Woodson and Ray: Not a bad DB class (photo from mikedesimone.com)

He broke out as a sophomore, starting all twelve games at strong safety. His best game came in Michigan's 45-29 victory over Michigan State, when he tallied ten tackles, broke up a pass, and had two of the Wolverines' four interceptions. Ray would finish the season with 100 tackles, good for second on the team, as well as seven pass breakups and three picks. He was named second-team All-Big Ten, as selected by the coaches, and was an honorable mention for the media team.

As we all know, everything came together during the 1997 season. Ray finished third on the team with 71 tackles, broke up four passes and had five interceptions (second on the team behind a certain Heisman Trophy winner). He had two interceptions during Michigan's 28-24 comeback victory over Iowa, and added two more during the team's blowout of Michigan State. However, the defining moment of Ray's season, career, and arguably the 1997 season as a whole came during the regular season finale against Ohio State. Late in the fourth quarter, OSU quarterback Joe Germaine rolled to his right and sailed a pass over the head of receiver David Boston, who had been physically and verbally battling with the Wolverine defensive backfield all day. Ray pounced on the opportunity to give Boston the licking he deserved, and sent him flying up into the air before crashing down onto his back (video here). The hit was immortalized on the next week's cover of Sports Illustrated, and would come to symbolize the smashmouth defense of the 1997 title team. Ray was named second-team All-America and first-team All-Big Ten after the season.

Photobucket

Ray's 1998 season was a rocky one. After Ray started in the Wolverines' season-opening losses to Notre Dame and Syracuse, it came to light that he had accepted illegal benefits from a Cincinnati-based agent named James Gould. He was forced to serve a five-game suspension, and when he returned his starting role and captaincy were both gone. He would finish the season with only 31 tackles and one interception, coming in the last regular season game against Hawaii.

After graduating from Michigan in 1998, Ray went undrafted, and signed a free agent deal with the Oakland Raiders for the 1999 season. He appeared in eight games and recorded one tackle that year, and in 2000 was optioned to the Scottish Claymores of NFL Europe. He had a solid season for the Claymores, recording 39 tackles, defending seven passes, and picking off a pass while helping lead the team to a World Bowl appearance.

Photobucket
Ray after a game-sealing interception of Danny Wuerffel sent the Claymores to the 2000 World Bowl (I'm not making this up)

Ray hung up his cleats after the 2000 season, and he took a job as co-defensive coordinator at Linden McKinley High School in Columbus in 2001. The next season he was the assistant head coach and defensive coordinator at Eastmoor, his alma mater, before taking the same positions in 2003 at Northland High School.

He moved his way up to the college ranks in 2004, taking over as defensive backs coach for Division II Ohio Dominican University. He coached for three years at Ohio Dominican before accepting a job as a graduate assistant on Lloyd Carr's staff in 2007. When Carr retired, he helped Ray get a job as a graduate assistant at Central Michigan, where he currently works. He lives with his wife, Lynda, and his two young sons, Marcus II ("Deuce") and Malik.

Here's hoping Ray works his way onto Michigan's coaching staff in the future. He sure seems to be a football lifer, and it would always be great to have a former national champ and All-American. Having potential recruiting ties into Ohio State's backyard certainly wouldn't hurt either.

Photobucket
Ray, today (photo from cmuchippewas.com)

I cannot let this article end without commenting on an incredibly strange thing I stumbled across while researching this piece. In September 1998, just nine months after Michigan won the national title, the movie "Knock Out" was released. According to IMDB, in the movie "Action star Jean Claude Van Damme plays a fashion designer who must join forces with a C.I.A. agent to combat terrorism.". The name of Van Damme's character: Marcus Ray. Coincidence, right? Not so fast, my friend! His sidekick, played by Rob Schneider (what a cast!) is named Tommy Hendricks, which also happens to be the name of the Wolverines' starting free safety in '97. I used Wikipedia to the best of my ability to try to find the reason for the main characters being named after the Michigan safety duo, and the only thing I could find was that the screenwriter, Steven E. de Souza (who also wrote Die Hard and Die Hard II) went to Penn State. The only reason I can think of for him naming the characters Marcus Ray and Tommy Hendricks is that he lost a bet. If so, just be glad the characters weren't named Curtis Enis and Mike McQueary.

UPDATE: Something I missed last night that attests to Ray's character: while suspended during the 1998 season, he suited up at running back for the scout team after the Wolverines struggled mightily against two option offenses. That's how to put your ego on the back burner and do whatever it takes to help the team win.

Sources:
MGoBlue Statistics Archive
Bentley Historical Library
NCAA: Ray to miss two more games (Michigan Daily)
Marcus Ray Statistics (Pro-Football-Reference.com)
2000 Scottish Claymores Team Statistics (indexNFLEL)
Scottish Claymores (Wikipedia)
NFLE2000 Week 9 (Scottish Cheddarheads)
CMU adds well-known graduate assistant (MLive)
Marcus Ray (CMUChippewas.com)
Knock Off (Wikipedia)

3 comments:

Kevin said...

This is some great shit, every year since I was 8 I would watch that that Boston massacre before the Ohio State game. Although the best is watching Woodson virtually stealing the ball from some kid in the sixth row vs Todd Shultz before the State game.

John said...

Nitpick - Ray was a year older than Woodson, in the 1994 recruiting class (he redshirted).

Phil said...

I was always a BIG Marcus Ray fan until the 1998 game against the Cuse. Marcus got all chummy and was "to Nice" to McNabb. Remember that scene on TV right before the 2nd half kicked off??? WOW!!!!!!