Dec. 19, 2011
DALLAS (FWAA) - Michigan State's Arthur Ray Jr. has been named the winner of the 2011 Discover Orange Bowl/FWAA Courage Award. Ray, a senior offensive lineman from Chicago, returned to football this season, four years after bone cancer derailed his career.
The award will be presented Jan. 3, 2012, at the AVMed Orange Bowl Coaches Luncheon in Miami; Ray will be honored again Jan. 4 on the field during the Discover Orange Bowl.
"This is a tremendous award for a young man who has conquered all of the odds up against him," Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said. "He's played in games this year and has participated on the practice field daily. It's been a long road. He was on crutches for almost two years, from 2007 to 2009. He's really a living example to our football team on what you can do with a positive attitude and if you just continue to work, how you can conquer all obstacles."
Ray signed with Michigan State as a highly recruited lineman from Chicago's Mount Carmel High School in 2007, but was soon diagnosed with cancer in his left leg. Through nine surgeries - including four bone grafts - countless rounds of chemotherapy and several outbreaks of infection, he was unable to practice or play. For almost two years, he was unable to walk without crutches.
He had been given a medical disqualification and remained on scholarship with Michigan State. But last April, doctors cleared him to resume football.
Still, practicing was one thing; playing quite another. On Sept. 3, when the Spartans opened the season against Youngstown State, starting left guard Joel Foreman - a fifth-year senior and a team co-captain - asked Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio if he could give up his position to his friend. Foreman had started 22 straight games and 36 of 38 in his career.
Ray participated in only the first play, but blocked two players. He has since played against Florida Atlantic and Indiana, and continues to practice with the goal of earning more playing time.
"I'm really appreciative of this great award, and I know that every single player who was nominated deserves to receive it," Ray said. "I'm just grateful that I'm blessed with this opportunity. It's been a hard process, but my love of football never stopped. I've always had this fire. Even in my weakest of moments, when I didn't really want to go to that doctor's visit or go to that rehab session, just every rough step along the way, I always kept football on my mind.
"The opportunity to play and practice means everything. I was talking to an old friend the other day from when I first started playing football, and from back then, I always dreamed to be in this position to play major college football. And my dreams are coming true. I'm still not satisfied, but at the end of the day, I've come a real long way. I wouldn't want to be anywhere else in the world than wearing these pads and being with my teammates."
"Arthur has tremendous faith and has been a role model for so many people in the Greater Lansing community in his fight against cancer," said Dantonio. "He's made a difference in so many people's lives I can't even begin to count, not just in our players' lives, but everybody who is around him, he makes life a little bit better. He makes it a little bit easier for people to make it through their problems. I tell him often times he sees life right now through a different lens, and that makes a difference sometimes for him. He's much more mature than a normal college player because of the things that he's gone through in his life up until now. He continues to be a role model for all of us."
For the sixth straight year, the Football Writers Association of America and the Discover Orange Bowl announced a weekly nominee for the Discover Orange Bowl/FWAA Courage Award each Wednesday during the season. A blue-ribbon panel determined the award's recipient from those weekly nominees.
The Courage Award was created by ESPN The Magazine's senior writer Gene Wojciechowski, also an FWAA member. A select group of FWAA members vote on the recipient each year. The requirements for nomination include displaying courage on or off the field, including overcoming an injury or physical handicap, preventing a disaster or living through hardship.
Previous winners of the FWAA's Courage Award are Rutgers defensive tackle Eric LeGrand (2010), the University of Connecticut football team (2009), Tulsa's Wilson Holloway (2008), Navy's Zerbin Singleton (2007), Clemson's Ray Ray McElrathbey (2006), the Tulane football team (2005), Memphis' Haracio Colen (2004), San Jose State's Neil Parry (2003) and Toledo's William Bratton (2002).
2011 Discover Orange Bowl Courage Award Nominees
Sept. 28: Shane Blissard and Robbie Stewart, Middle Tennessee
Oct. 5: Carson Tinker, Alabama
Oct. 12: Blaine Irby, Texas
Oct. 19: David Lerner, Florida
Oct. 26: Mike James, Miami
Nov. 2: Arthur Ray Jr., Michigan State
Nov. 16: Shane Simpson and Jack Long, Missouri Western State