Iowa State defensive line coach Curtis Bray, who has served the last five seasons in Ames on head coach Paul Rhoads' staff, died Wednesday morning, Jan. 15, of unknown causes. The school confirmed the news in a statement.
Bray was 43 years old.
The cause of death was not made available by school officials, but Trey Scott of Scout.com reported Bray collapsed during a morning workout. He died before a staff meeting scheduled for 7 a.m. Wednesday, with emergency responders being called to the university's Bergstrom Football Complex at 6:27 a.m., per Randy Peterson of the Des Moines Register.
Bray, a defensive specialist throughout his coaching career, spent 19 seasons as a coach at various levels. A Monroeville, Pa., native, Bray served on staffs at Pennsylvania schools like Duquesne and Villanova before linking up with Rhoads while both were assistants at Pittsburgh.
When Rhoads landed the Iowa State job, one of the first calls he made was to Bray, then working at Temple. In the university statement, the Cyclones head coach was forlorn about the loss of not only a colleague but also a close friend:
Curtis Bray was a dear friend to me and to all he ever came in contact with. He was a trusted and loyal assistant coach who always put the kids and the team in front of his work. He was as genuine in his approach to relationships, coaching and life as anyone I have ever been associated with. We will miss him dearly.
Bray helped guide the Cyclones to three bowl appearances during his five seasons, including a 2009 Insight Bowl victory over Minnesota. He was known to players as a diligent, kind-hearted coach whose positivity glowed even during down times. Iowa State went only 3-9 in 2013 and has a losing record in four of five seasons under Rhodes, but multiple players singled out Bray as helping keep the locker room happy.
“Probably the most positive person I’ve been around,” defensive coordinator Wally Burnham said, per Peterson. “Even if the circumstances were bad, he was always positive. He always found a way to look on the bright side of what we were doing.”
Iowa State specifically highlighted his work with junior defensive end Cory Morrissey. An honorable mention selection for the 2013 All Big-12 team, Morrissey was second on the team with 6.5 tackles for loss and emerged as one of the more promising defensive stars in recent Cyclones history.
Coming back for his senior season, Morrissey could play his way into being an NFL draft pick, and he said Bray's impact extended off the field as well.
“He definitely was a father figure for me with everything that has happened in my life,” Morrissey said. “I lost my father when I was 14. I learned everything about the position and life lessons from him. He coached beyond the field. He coached young men to become men.”
Still a young, vibrant assistant, many will recall the days of Bray roaming the middle as one of the most highly touted linebackers in the country. A former National Gatorade Player of the Year, Bray went on to star at Pittsburgh before graduating in 1992. The Panthers' athletics department released a statement on Bray's passing, highlighting his decade of contribution to the university:
The Pitt Football Family is shocked and saddened to hear of Curtis Bray’s untimely passing. Curtis made indelible contributions as both a player and assistant coach at Pitt. His competitive nature on the field was only surpassed by his kind and gentle demeanor off of it. Our deepest sympathies go out to his family and many loved ones. While Curtis will be greatly missed, he will not be forgotten by the many people he touched at Pitt.
Though his passing is untimely, Bray made long-lasting friendships and contributions to the game of football that will not soon be forgotten—especially in Ames and Pittsburgh.
Bray is survived by his wife, Heather, and their two children, Sydney and Colden Charles.
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