Think of your worst sports injury ever. Maybe stitches here or there, possibly a broken bone, or maybe even a torn ACL. Whatever it may be, its nothing compared to what Michigan State offensive tackle Arthur Ray Jr. had to endure on his journey back to the field. What Ray Jr. went through wasn’t a muscle injury or a tendon tear; he went through a setback that most athletes don’t even think to worry about.
Just months after being recruited in 2007 Ray Jr. started to notice a lump in his shin and by the time he got his diploma, he was diagnosed with osteosarcoma. Right then and there Ray Jr. went from getting ready to hit the gridiron to preparing for the biggest uphill battle of his life.
“My initial goal when I first got diagnosed was to take the steps to get better,” stated Ray Jr. about his short term goal was. “I also needed to surround myself with great people, like my family and the great people here at Michigan State [to help get through the battle].”
The people that played the biggest role in standing by his side through his fight was his family and a few very close friends, who Ray Jr. watched all the Spartan’s games with at home when he was unable to make the trip to East Lansing. Another presence was Mark Dantonio, who made visits to Ray Jr.’s home from the start of his bout with cancer.
His journey, however, wasn’t on a path of roses by any means, because through the four years and nine surgeries, people underestimated his determination to get back in pads. “[The toughest part was] dealing coming here every day just not being able to do anything and hearing some people say ‘alright you should be doing this’ or ‘you should just quit’, and it kind of started to upset me a little bit, and it ended up fueling me,” says Ray Jr., “but the thought of quitting never popped up in my head.”
So even off the field Ray Jr. showed off his competitive will, getting through all the side comments and advice some people had for him on top of all the pain and time he had to put in at the hospital, but that’s the only trait he displayed to his team.
“I’d say the number one thing he taught our team is perseverance,” believes 2007 recruiting classmate Kirk Cousins, “his leg is basically a metal rod down there, so to put up with that like he has takes a tremendous amount of perseverance.”
Now anyone that follows college football knows that this isn’t the first cancer survivor to have an incredible comeback story in recent history. Just last year stand-out linebacker Mark Herzlich was diagnosed with cancer as well, and made a similar voyage back to the field, and Ray Jr. definitely took note of his comeback.
“Me and my family have been watching his ride back to the field, he was trying to get back from the same thing I was, so he was a huge inspiration,” Ray Jr. said about Herzlich. “There’s also a guy named Ryan Anderson in Ohio, I would love to talk with him, I heard he got osteosarcoma too and I know exactly how he feels so I would love to talk to him soon.” This comes to show that one inspiration can always lead to another.
So four years, nine surgeries, dozens of naysayers, and hundreds of hours of rehab later, Ray Jr. is ready to make his highly anticipated comeback to the field. Before he could do that though, he let his fellow Spartans know some team and life lessons in a speech he gave to the team.
“He talked about perseverance, overcoming adversity, and defying the odds” recaps running back Larry Caper, “he said sometimes he was without doctors and sometimes we’ll be without coaches, but we just got to overcome it and work together.”
Now that Ray Jr. has his life back for the most part, he is now cleared to strap on the shoulder pads and play the sport he plays best. Ray Jr. said that football has always been his “passion” and gives the sport a lot of credit for driving him through his battle with cancer. Practice isn’t what he’s limited too anymore also, because the 6’2”, 297 lb. lineman was sent out to play in the fourth quarter of MSU’s spring game and threw down a perfect block on the linebacker during a counter run play. Apparently rust won’t be a problem for him, but he does admit he is only around 75 percent still, and will rely on a day-to-day program in order to get back to his top physical shape.
Congratulations Arthur Ray Jr., you have inspired the whole sporting world and will have everyone, even the Wolverines and Buckeyes, rooting for you this year.