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
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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
“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,
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
“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
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.