Republished from the Jefferson City News Tribune
COLUMBIA — When Shane Ray sacked Kentucky quarterback Patrick Towles for the second time Saturday, he knew it was his 12th of the season, and he knew he had just set a school record.
He also knew he couldn’t just stand there.
“Man, during the game I didn’t know if I was going to get it or not,” Ray said of his 12th sack, “but when I did get it, I was like, ‘Do something. Do something.’”
Ray’s 12th sack broke the previous Missouri record of 11 1/2, set by Aldon Smith in 2009 and matched by Michael Sam last season.
To celebrate, Ray took a vicious left-handed hack with an imaginary baseball bat.
“It was a good moment,” Ray said.
Ray, a native of Kansas City, was one of many Royals fans on the Missouri roster rooting on the team in blue during its recent World Series run. Though Ray said he doesn’t play baseball much anymore, he likes his chances with the game on the line.
“I wish I could’ve swung for Salvy in the World Series,” said Ray, referring to Salvador Pérez’s season-ending at-bat against Giants pitcher Madison Bumgarner. “I feel like Bumgarner wouldn’t have struck me out.”
The junior defensive end hasn’t swung and missed much this season, his first as a full-time starter on Missouri’s defensive line. Though he failed twice (against Georgia and Vanderbilt) to meet his goal of recording a sack every game, he has tallied two sacks in five different contests this year. He is the only Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) player with that many multi-sack games this season.
Monday, Ray was listed as one of 20 semifinalists for the Chuck Bednarik Award, given to the best defensive player as chosen by the Maxwell Football Club. Also on Monday, he was named the Southeastern Conference defensive lineman of the week for the third time this season. Ray also earned SEC defensive player of the week honors after his four tackles for loss against Central Florida.
Ray’s 12 sacks are the most in the SEC and tied for second-most in the nation. His 16 tackles for loss are also tops in the SEC and third in the country.
Though he celebrated his record-breaking sack immediately after, Ray wasn’t ready to start the festivities just yet.
“It’s funny, my teammates wanted me to celebrate with them, and I can’t seem to break out of focus mode in the game,” Ray said. “I had to kind of tell guys, ‘Get off me. We’ve still got a game to go (play).’ But after the game, I took it all in and just enjoyed the experience with my teammates and my mom.”
Ray didn’t have long to wait. His sack came on fourth down and was Kentucky’s final offensive play of the day. Missouri knelt to tick the remaining 35 seconds off the clock, and the Tigers secured their third straight win and first-place position in the SEC East.
The team mobbed Ray afterward and held a cheer for him in the locker room.
“I think that’s great for him,” cornerback Aarion Penton said. “He just comes out every day and gives 110 percent, so he deserves it.”
Linebacker Michael Scherer said it was good to see Ray break the record, because last season Sam reached 10 sacks before November but failed to record another solo sack until the Cotton Bowl in January. Smith reached 10 sacks through the Tigers’ first 10 games, one short of the previous record of 11 set by Jefferson City High School graduate Justin Smith in 2000. Smith was held sackless against Iowa State before tying Smith’s mark against Kansas and surpassing it in a Texas Bowl loss to Navy.
“Some of the people were calling it the curse,” Scherer said. “… So when (Ray) got that 12th sack, I knew it right away and went up to him and congratulated him on the field. You feel for a guy like that to break a record.”
Ray and fellow defensive end Markus Golden stepped in this year to replace Sam and Kony Ealy, both of whom departed for the NFL.
“We understood that a lot of people felt like those were big shoes to fill,” Ray said. “We made sure every day that we worked out during the summer, during the winter, and that we trained. We were going to show everybody, and they were going to give us respect, and that’s what it’s been about all season and continuing to fight for respect and continuing to show that we’re our own people.
“We’re our own guys. We’re not Mike and Kony. We’re Shane Ray and Markus Golden. That’s just how we approached this season, and that’s how we’re going to continue to approach it.”
Ray said he told Sam he was going to break his record when Sam left the Tigers.
“Mike knows the kind of competitor that I am,” Ray said, “and he told me last year after the Cotton Bowl — he was like, ‘It’s your turn to step up.’ I took that to heart, and that’s just been what has driven me.”
Ray is already receiving a lot of buzz regarding his status in the 2015 NFL Draft, and his speed is no small reason why. Ray said he ran a 4.44-second 40-yard dash in the offseason.
Missouri quarterback Maty Mauk is happy not to be the one avoiding Ray’s grasp on Saturdays.
“But I’ve got to practice against him all week, too,” Mauk said. “And he’s getting our guys better. When you’ve got a guy that runs a 4.4 40 as a defensive end and has got the explosiveness of him, it’s going to get us better, and he’s doing a great job right now.”
So how high of a record does Ray hope to set in Missouri’s remaining games?
“At a moment like this, I don’t really know,” Ray said. “I guess I’ll just stick to my goal and continue to try to get one sack a game and keep on pushing for that. When the end of the season comes, then everybody will be able to see the final number, but right now I’m just going to take this in and enjoy this bye week and then get ready to go.”