defensive end Shane Ray announced January 7 that he will enter the 2015 NFL Draft and forgo his last season of eligibility at Mizzou.
Ray, a Kansas City native, said his decision was a difficult one, but an opportunity he never would have had without his Mizzou family.
“I had a lot of great experiences here,” Ray said. “My coaches believed in me from day one. I was blessed to have teammates to support me and make it possible for me to accomplish what I was able to this year.
Ray’s competitive spirit and determination took him to great heights throughout his years at Mizzou. During the 2014 season, Ray emerged as one of the premier defensive ends in the country, breaking the Mizzou single-season sack record and receiving numerous honors, including Consensus All-American and SEC Defensive Player of the Year. As a first-year starter in 2014, Ray earned 14.5 total sacks and 22.5 tackles for loss, both No. 1 in the SEC.
“The word ‘can’t’ is not in his vocabulary,” said Defensive Line Coach Craig Kuligowski. “He’s not stopped at getting better since he got here.”
Coaches and teammates alike saw potential in Ray from the beginning. The same drive that has earned him first-round draft projections earned him a number on a Mizzou jersey several years ago.
“As we went through the process of starting to evaluate Shane, we could tell he would develop into a great player,” said Associate Head Coach Andy Hill. “I know we’re very proud of him, but going back to see him as a freshman to declaring for the draft here today, he’s made remarkable improvements.”
The junior defensive end has been molded athletically, emotionally, and mentally through the Mizzou Made concept.
“He’s developed from a guy that said ‘what can I do for me?’ to a guy that says ‘how can I help this team?’” Kuligowski said. “He’s one of the best leaders on our team, in and out of the locker room, not only with his play, but also his motivation to inspire our team to great heights.”
Ray exemplified this character and wisdom throughout the decision-making process for the NFL Draft.
“Through the process this year, he’s handled it with grace and been true to our team,” Kuligowski said. “He certainly set a standard that can hardly be matched in any year following.”
For Head Coach Gary Pinkel, Ray’s decision to enter the draft is an intelligent action. The head coach walked alongside Ray throughout the decision-making process.
“You want to get the right information to make an intelligent decision,” Pinkel said. “He went through the process. He really analyzed it and did it the right way. He has had a tremendous career here and he’s one of the best competitors I’ve ever been around in my life.
The Mizzou Football Family is just like any other family, and goodbyes are never easy. However, when you care for your family, you want what is best for them.
“I approach this like the players are my own kids,” Pinkel said. “When a player is a projected first-round pick and he wants to go, then he should go because that’s what I would tell my son.”