By J. Daniel Rollins
Register-Herald Sports Writer
Many have thought about what it would be like to stand on the sidelines among the top coaches in the country, coaching the greatest athletes in the country, but few of us are ever given that chance.
That’s not the case for Shady Spring’s Dave Ray, thanks to the Wounded Warrior Project.
Ray — a Marine Corps veteran — was selected to be an honorary coach for the 2013 Under Armour All-America Game. The game, in its fifth year, showcases many of the top high school prospects in the country and has featured such players as A.J. Green, Manti Te’o and Trent Richardson.
Dave Ray is no stranger to football. He was a four-year starter for Oceana High School and was a member of the All-State and All-Coalfield Conference teams in 1999 and 2000. He also coaches Shady Spring youth football.
“I never really pursued college, despite being talented at football,” Ray said. “I could have probably played in college but felt a draw to serving my country instead.”
Ray enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps in November of 2000.
“No one in my family had ever served our country,” he said. “I wanted to serve. I had a burning desire to join the best and to go and serve my country.”
Ray, a .50-caliber gunner, served in Iraq in 2003 and 2004. He was just three weeks from returning home to the United States when he was injured in a roadside bomb and subsequent firefight while on patrol in Fallujah.
“It was about 3 a.m. and I was thinking about coming home. I was very complacent,” Ray recalled.
“The vehicle I was in was struck by a roadside bomb. It was followed by a pretty intense ambush that turned into a daylong firefight.”
Ray suffered a traumatic brain injury as a result of the attack and suffers from severe post-traumatic stress disorder. But the Wounded Warrior Project is allowing him to live a dream.
Under Armour, one of their largest sponsors, reached out to the Wounded Warrior Project seeking warriors to serve as honorary coaches for their annual game. Ray was one of only two selected.
“I had no idea,” he said. “My caregivers with Wounded Warriors knew my background and nominated me. I had no idea my name was even put in until a counselor called me last week and told me I had been selected.”
Ray, along with his wife Ginger and their three children, will fly to Tampa, Fla., on Dec. 30. On top of his duties with the game, his family will be spending time at Disney World.
Although there is a lot of fun to be had, Ray is taking his job seriously.
“I get to speak to these guys before the game,” Ray said. “A lot of what I learned as a football player, my perspective on it, I took that to Iraq with me. It got me through Iraq and the Marines. The heart and passion for the game is the same thing a war needs to be fought with.”
Ray will serve as a coach for Team Nitro, alongside former San Francisco 49ers and Detroit Lions head coach Steve Mariucci, as well as Pro Football Hall of Famer Deion Sanders. Their opponents, Team Highlight, will be coached by current ESPN analyst Herm Edwards.
The game will be played on Jan. 4 at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla., at 4 p.m. and will be broadcast on ESPN.
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