Arthur Ray Jr.’s valiant defeat of cancer a soft spot for team and the Spartan Nation

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Here Ray is seen (above) while rehabbing in 2009, never lost his smile and positive attitude.  Photo courtesy of Mark Boomgaard.

Here Ray is seen (above) while rehabbing in 2009, never lost his smile and positive attitude. Photo courtesy of Mark Boomgaard.

 

 

 

The battle is over, and Arthur Ray Jr. is standing on the winning end.

 

No, this has nothing to do with football. But like playing the physically-battering sport, Arthur Ray Jr.’s defeat of cancer almost four years after being diagnosed took an enormous amount of courage and perseverance. He kept his head up, fought for his life and found himself at the same place in which he originally envisioned: a football field.

 

After being medically disqualified by the NCAA due to scholarship conflicts with the program, Ray Jr. was given clearance to join in spring practice and play with his teammates. To say that Arthur’s presence in front of the team was emotional would be an understatement.

“I was in class, and I just cried tears of joy,” Ray Jr. said of finding out he was cleared to play. “I called my mom. It’s the best feeling in the world right now.

“I had a great (reception), phenomenal. Coach (Dantonio) announced it, and everybody clapped. It’s good to have the support,” he said.

Ray Jr. is now looking to slay a different beast, one that can be found on the gridiron.

“It felt so good (getting back on the field) because it just represents so much now,” he said. “I just feel like I have to represent everybody that’s still dealing with bad things, like chemo. I still remember some of my guys that are still in the hospital.

“I’m using spring ball to get my feet back underneath me. I went out there today and did a few drills, a little bit of hitting. It felt great. I’m not that far off, I just have to keep working.”

Head coach Mark Dantonio had many good things to say regarding the triumphant return of the young man who has beaten the odds.

“It’s been a long time coming,” said head coach Mark Dantonio. “It’s been four years, and I think more than anything, it’s a starting point to be back on the field. Also, I think it gives hope to anybody who is in a tough situation in their life. If you just keep pushing through adversity you’ve got a chance.

“It was great seeing him out there. We want to try to work him in very gradually to see how he does in individual drills, allow him to get confident in himself and, really, allow ourselves to get confidence in him where he would not be at risk. He’s an outstanding young man.”

 

Dantonio said Ray Jr. has been around the team throughout his entire ordeal, sitting in during practices and standing on the sidelines. No dramatic entrance was needed because, as Dantonio put it, Ray Jr. just wanted to “get down to business.” Doctors cleared him in January, allowing for him the opportunity to start getting back into the swing of things – including contact drills.

 

Offensive coordinator Dan Roushar spoke for everyone when he said the team couldn’t be happier to see Arthur back on the field.

“We’re all thrilled for Arthur, especially when you think about the surgeries, the chemotherapy treatments and the countless hours of rehabilitation,” Roushar said. “For Arthur to return to the practice field today, I’m sure it felt like his Super Bowl moment. His return to the field was emotional for many of us.

 “When coach (Mark) Dantonio delivered the news that Arthur had been cleared to return to practice, the entire team erupted into applause. He has inspired many of his teammates during this remarkable journey,” he added.

Ray Jr., who is eligible as a fourth-year senior, made his companions on the front line show a side they don’t often show on the field of play.

 

Lineman Blake Treadwell called it a “great feeling” to see Arthur without crutches and with his teammates. Right guard Chris “Magnus” McDonald said he got goose bumps just thinking of Ray Jr.’s presence in a uniform and pads, saying they are good friends and that Arthur addressed his fellow line mates before practice.

 

“(Arthur) counted every single day since he’s been waiting (to play), over a thousands days,” McDonald said. “We were all getting tears and ... it’s just crazy. I know how much he wants to play; he just wants to be with us. It’s a great opportunity for him and hopefully it’s more motivation for us to play for him.”

 

The scene in the room of the offensive linemen may have been a rallying cry for not only those players but the entire team in general, or maybe it was just a group of close friends meeting once again – this time in a different light. Either way, the entire notion of a team being a family can not be better represented than it was when Arthur Ray Jr. returned.

 

“Last year (the team) was really close,” McDonald said. “We relied on each other and it was all about trust. This year just shows we are all young guys but showing that Arthur – we’re all getting in tears, we love him, we’re happy that he’s playing, it shows we’re close as a unit.”

 

William Gholston called Ray Jr. a good friend and said it meant a lot to see him in practice and playing well. But even the players who don’t spend as much time with Arthur on the field thought the scene was great, one of whom was tight end Garrett Celek.

 

“It was great,” Celek said. “When (Arthur) got in there, under the chutes, taking the first hit, he got everybody hyped. Everybody got up and he took the whole team to the next level.”

 

Arthur’s journey has been one in which not many young athletes experience. His ability to challenge cancer, defeat it, play football again – all while inspiring his teammates on a level way beyond any of them ever imagined – has exuded a new sense of camaraderie for an already-close team.

 

They say football is a game of inches. Then again, so is life. Arthur Ray Jr. is proof of that.