“It’s not the X’s and O’s, it’s the Jimmys and Joes”
The originator of the line is unclear, but the truth of the message was obvious Monday evening as Steven Ray signed his letter of intent to continue his football career at Maryville College.
The Heritage senior and two-year starting guard for the Mountaineers signed his commitment to become a Fighting Scot next fall in front of family, friends and several coaches who all spoke fondly and emotionally of their departing player.
Beginning with Tim Hammontree, who concluded his tenth and final season leading Heritage on the gridiron this past fall, the coaches that worked with Ray from middle school on all spoke eloquently and all choked up at points in their remarks praising the 6-foot-2 , 270-pound lineman.
The common theme centered on Ray’s strong work ethic and commitment to improve himself.
“Every time he had an opportunity to better himself, (Ray) said, ‘Suck it up, you can get better,’” Hammontree said in opening remarks to the assembled crowd. “After his freshman year, he made a commitment to work towards this day.”
The son of Johnny and Karen Ray, the 18-year old senior told The Daily Times that he also considered Mount St. Joseph in Cincinnati and Thomas More University of Kentucky.
“They were great schools, but I just want to be here, be with the family,” Ray said. “I like going to church with my family on Sundays, that’s a big thing for me. I have a lot of support here and my whole life is here. Fishing with my dad on weekends, that’s a big thing for me.”
In addition to opening remarks from Hammontree, line coach Keith Hall, Heritage Middle School coach Julian Allen and former coach Travis Felder, now at Alcoa, all returned to common themes in praise of Ray.
“I know all the hard work he put in to get to where he is today and I appreciate that,” Hall told The Daily Times as family members and friends took turns taking photographs with Ray. “I am going to miss being around him. This is the first step in saying goodbye, for now. We’ve had a daily relationship for the last almost four years, and he’s getting ready to move on and I’m going to miss him.”
Ray said he intends to focus on secondary education at Maryville College, majoring in science to eventually be a teacher and coach.
“Football has made a big impact on my life, and I want to be able to make that impact on other people’s lives, down the road,” Ray said. “I’ve always wanted to integrate the younger people. Being that kid that was low on the totem pole, I’ve always wanted to make the younger kids feel welcome.”
With Maryville College just announcing that he will build a track and start competing again in track and field, Ray may be able to continue in two sports as he did at Heritage, competing in discus and shot-put when not in the weight room, which he admitted to loving in itself for the individual struggle to improve as well as the camaraderie developed by cheering on teammates.
“It’s always been about hard work,” Ray said. “I’ve never been that guy that came into a sport and was just exceptional with my talent or size or anything like that. I always came in and no matter what, I was the guy doing the work. I came from being not very good at football to being here on signing day, and it really seems surreal.”