Republished from the Jefferson City News Tribune
COLUMBIA — Missouri’s starting defensive tackles Markus Golden and Shane Ray have been getting plenty of attention this year as an up-and-coming duo to be reckoned with in the Southeastern Conference.
But perhaps one of them has gotten more than the other. Golden is the co-captain. Golden was named to the Chuck Bednarik watch list for best defensive player. And Golden has been the go-to guy for those seeking a defense-related quote.
But with a two-sack, seven-tackle performance Saturday against Central Florida, Shane Ray is demanding some attention for himself.
“Maybe he was a little mad that Markus got all the attention last week,” coach Gary Pinkel said after Missouri’s 38-10 win.
Regardless the motivation, it worked. Ray was named the SEC defensive player of the week Monday, thanks to his four tackles for loss and forced fumble against the Knights.
“It feels good, and I would have to thank my teammates,” Ray said about the recognition. “They’re a big part of my success this week in doing what they do, and it just feels good to be able to bring it home for Mizzou.”
Ray leads the nation in tackles for loss with 7.5. Ray’s breakout day might have earned him recognition, but for the record, he disputes Pinkel’s claim.
“Each week me and Markus just go out and try to play to the best of our abilities, just make as many plays as we can,” he said. “… It doesn’t really matter if Markus is in the spotlight, if I’m in the spotlight, as long as we’re doing what we’re supposed to do as a defense, we’re going to be OK.”
Two, seven and four aren’t the only numbers worth noting when it comes to Ray. Another: 14. That’s where ESPN analyst Todd McShay placed Ray in a recent draft board.
This season, Ray and Golden replaced two players, Michael Sam and Kony Ealy, who were drafted into the NFL. Pinkel said the NFL world has noticed Sam and Ealy’s replacements.
“I had some NFL scouts come in saying ‘Those two guys (Ealy and Sam) are pretty good, but the two behind them — shoot, they might be better.’” Pinkel said before Missouri’s game against UCF. “Don’t tell Kony and Michael I said that. … I’ll get a text or two tonight, probably. But they’re explosive guys, man. They come off the corner and they create a lot of problems.”
Ray said he’s not letting the hype get to him.
“It’s just as simple as tuning it out,” he said. “I’m focused on being a Missouri Tiger. It’s a long season. I have a lot that I have to do for my team and a lot of teams that I’ve got to prepare for. So draft talk, not really worried about it. I don’t really even pay attention to it, so I’m focused on the now.”
Pinkel would be happy to hear that.
“I think any player that thinks about himself and the draft and he’s playing here … most likely, they won’t have their best year,” Pinkel said. “All the players I’ve ever coached, you ask Michael Sam about last year, he’ll say one of the reasons why he had his best year ever is he put the team in front of himself. He did it for his football team. He didn’t do it for Michael Sam.”
Ray said he’s not unaware of his draft prospects — mom calls to tells him about it, he said — but he said it goes “in one ear and out the other.”
Ray observed former teammates going through the same thing — especially Sheldon Richardson, his “big brother” on the D line, who was drafted 13th overall in 2013.
“I was able to see how he handled the process,” Ray said, “and just listening to coach Steck (Dave Steckel) about being humble. Being humble is huge. Football, it’s a sport where your career could be over any day, and I just want to take each day and be humble and focus on the process of being the best that I can be.”
ESPN announced Monday the network will air the Tigers’ SEC debut at South Carolina. The Sept. 27 game will kick off at 6 p.m.