Spring football has provided a lot of interesting stories around the Big Ten, but my personal favorite is a no-brainer. Two weeks ago, the NCAA reversed Arthur Ray Jr.'s medical disqualification status and cleared the Michigan State offensive lineman to resume practicing. It marked a major milestone for Ray, who battled cancer in his leg and only got off of crutches last spring. Ray is cancer free and participating at guard in most drills during practice while he eyes the ultimate goal: suiting up for the Spartans in a game.
I caught up with Ray this week to talk about his amazing comeback.
What has it been like to be back out there practicing?
Arthur Ray: It's going great. I've been waiting for this for a long time.
When did you feel like this was real? Was it being on the practice field again? Getting the clearance from the doctors?
AR: It didn't hit me until I really walked on the field. It's a feeling I can't even describe. It was great, one of the best days of my life. I got the [medical] clearance in January, so I just waited for everything. It was a dream come true. I always knew I'd be able to practice. I had to wait to get clearance from the NCAA and Big Ten. I had to go through that whole process. But I knew I could practice again.
How did you find out?
AR: Coach [Mark Dantonio] called me, and I didn't answer because I was in class. He left me a voicemail, so I stepped out, listened to it and man, I just started crying. I called my mom. It was a great day. We had a team meeting and they announced it to the team and everybody just went crazy, so it was good.
When did you feel like you reached a turning point in your comeback?
AR: The turning point had to be once I finally got off crutches last spring, and I was allowed to walk around a little bit. I knew getting off crutches would be big, and I knew once I started walking that I'd definitely be able to run after moving around and strengthening up my leg.
What type of approach did you take in the weight room throughout the process?
AR: I took an attack approach to the weight room. I always attack every workout aggressively, and I wanted to take that same approach on the field. Even when I couldn't do so much, I always was going to work hard in the weight room.
What are you able to do in practice so far?
AR: Practice is just about getting my feet back underneath me, banging of course, going out there and hitting my guys, I'm allowed to do that a little bit. I'm just trying to get better every day. I'm doing all O-line drills and half-line, one-on-ones. Just none of the team or group stuff. I can't do that yet.
What was it like to get hit for the first time?
AR: Great. A feeling only a football player would know. It's a feeling I haven't felt in a while. I got the butterflies out, and I'm ready to go.
Did the guys take it easy on you?
AR: In the locker room, I told them not to take it easy on me because [if they do], I can't get any better. My goal is to play, and I want to play at a high level.
What's your plan for the rest of the spring and what's the outlook for this season? Can you play this fall?
AR: I'm taking it day by day this spring, see what I need to work on all summer and go through the summer and get better and continue to work hard. If I'm up to it and I sit down and talk to the coaches and they feel confident just from watching me, yeah, we'll give it a shot this year. But right now, I'm just excited to have this opportunity.
From a football standpoint, what are the biggest things you need to work on?
AR: Getting back in football shape. I'm in pretty good health shape, and my cardiovascular is pretty good from working out, running when I could going into winter conditioning. So it's getting back into football shape and strengthening my left leg a little more. My left leg's actually pretty strong. I feel like my upper-body strength is way stronger than it ever was.
And as far as your medical stuff, are you in the clear there?
AR: Aug. 12, surgery day. On Aug. 12, 2011, it'll be four years since I had my cancer removed. I still get six-month checkups, MRIs, CT scans, bone scans. After five years, I won't have to go through that anymore. So four years remission and I'm going strong.
What has been the reaction from everyone to seeing you out there again?
AR: Everybody's just excited. I love the support I have here at Michigan State. Coach D from Day 1 and everybody, all my teammates and the staff, they've been surrounding me and helping me 100 percent.
What will it be like to play in a game again?
AR: Probably the greatest day of my life to this point, when I finally run out there. I run it through my head constantly. When I go to sleep, I dream about it. It's a day I'm really looking forward to.