Lo­cal ath­lete shines at ASU

Justin Wray once ran East­side's of­fense to near per­fec­tion. Now Wray is the mo­tor that makes Ap­palachian State Univer­sity's de­fense go.

The Covington News - - Front Page - Josh Briggs jbriggs@cov­news.com

In 2008, Justin Wray led East­side to the Re­gion 8AAA foot­ball cham­pi­onship at quar­ter­back. He won two play­off games and put East­side foot­ball on the map. That fall, Wray switched sides.

No, Wray didn’t trans­fer to New­ton or Al­covy. He grad­u­ated and took his skills north to Ap­palachian State Univer­sity. But he didn”t go to play quar­ter­back. He was re­cruited out of high school as a safety.

Wray turned in his of­fen­sive play­book for a de­fen­sive one at Ap­palachian State Univer­sity and the move paid off. In 2010, he fin­ished sec­ond on the team in tack­les with 73 and was named sec­ond-team All-South­ern Con­fer­ence.

Poised to be the de­fen­sive quar­ter­back this sea­son, Wray is again at a cross­road. He will miss the up­com­ing sea­son due to a shoul­der in­jury and will red­shirt his ju­nior year. We caught up to Wray at the re­cent East­side pass­ing league and he gave his thoughts on his in­jury, the tran­si­tion to de­fense, col­lege foot­ball life and if play­ing quar­ter­back is still in his fu­ture.

The News: You had a great year last year but now it looks like you won”t play this sea­son. What”s the sta­tus of your in­jury right now?

Wray: Once we do the MRI, I’ll know ex­actly what we have to do with surgery. I hurt it in the fifth game of last sea­son, but I just played through it. We think it’s the labrum. Once I get the surgery, I will work through re­hab and get it stronger than be­fore and I’ll work hard with the team to get ready to come back for my ju­nior year next sea­son.

The News: Talk to me about last year when you had a break­out sea­son. What was it like play­ing up there at Ap­palachian State?

Wray: It was a fun year. Play­ing col­lege foot­ball is great. It was my first year at out­side line­backer and it was great to earn sec­ond-team All-South­ern Con­fer­ence. We won the con­fer­ence cham­pi­onship and that meant a lot to us. We wished we could have taken it fur­ther and win the na­tional cham­pi­onship though.

The News: What's the ex­pe­ri­ence been like go­ing up to that pro­gram where they’ve had so much suc­cess?

Wray: It’s been just like a big pro­gram — like a Florida or Vir­ginia Tech. There’s a lot of love up there from ev­ery­one on cam­pus to­ward the foot­ball team. It’s sim­i­lar to

East­side, with all the love and the fo­cus on win­ning cham­pi­onships. That’s why I chose Ap­palachian State.

The News: What’s been the big­gest dif­fer­ence be­tween play­ing in high school and play­ing at a big col­lege pro­gram?

Wray: Prob­a­bly the dis­ci­pline and fo­cus. In col­lege, we fo­cus so much on what we are sup­posed to do where at East­side I played quar­ter­back and safety and could play line­backer or any­where re­ally on of­fense. In col­lege, the fo­cus is much dif­fer­ent.

The News: You went there as a safety, but you didn’t stay there very long.

Wray: No, I didn’t. I played some safety as a fresh­man but my coach wanted me to switch to line­backer. He told me we would make that tran­si­tion the next spring and it’s been dif­fer­ent but good so far.

The News: What went into that de­ci­sion to con­vert you from a safety to line­backer?

Wray: It was a mat­ter of the de­fense my coach wanted to play. He wants faster lineback­ers on the out­side and play­ers who are ath­letic and strong as well. Be­cause of my speed and strength in tack­ling and such, it was a good fit for me.

The News: And you got to play be­hind Al­lAmer­i­can DJ Smith at line­backer.

Wray: Oh yeah, that was big. We’ve had some suc­cess­ful play­ers. We had a cou­ple of play­ers go into the league (NFL). We had three and that’s more than some big Divi­sion 1 schools had.

The News: What was it like play­ing Florida on the road last year?

Wray: Oh man, that was a lovely ex­pe­ri­ence just to go down to The Swamp and see where so many great play­ers have played. But you know, I had to get that out of my mind and just play foot­ball and han­dle my busi­ness.

The News: Can you tell when you see an NFL-cal­iber player on the field? How much dif­fer­ent are they than ev­ery­one else?

Wray: You can def­i­nitely tell. You can tell by their work ethic in how hard they work. When you see them on Satur­days, and how much they trans­fer that work they put in dur­ing the week, you can see how much it pays off. You have to have pas­sion but still have fun do­ing it.

The News: Does the thought of play­ing in the NFL ever pass through your mind?

Wray: I think about it some­times but I have to look at it like, I just have to take care of my busi­ness and not chase my dream. I let my dream chase me. As long as I work hard, I know I will put forth the ef­fort to be­come a great

player and that’s all I re­ally think about.

The News: You come back here some­times to work with the pro­gram. What’s it like for you when you come back here?

Wray: I love com­ing back to East­side and show­ing kids that this is a great pro­gram to be a part of. I talk to them and try to show them the ropes and teach them what to do and what not to do so they can keep a level head.

The News: Do you miss play­ing quar­ter­back?

Wray: Not re­ally. I do some­times be­cause quar­ter­back is such a prom­i­nent po­si­tion and you get to touch the ball all the time and you can make ei­ther a pos­i­tive or neg­a­tive play each time. I miss that I can’t make plays with the ball but on de­fense, I get to take some­body’s head off.

The News: Which do you like bet­ter, mak­ing a guy miss and tak­ing the ball in the end zone or hit­ting a guy com­ing across the mid­dle?

Wray: That’s tough be­cause I had scored touch­downs all my life and just started play­ing de­fense. I would say tak­ing some­body’s head off is more en­joy­able to me right now. Just see­ing the pain in some­one’s face af­ter you lay the wood on them.

The News: If the coach turned to you and told you to go in at quar­ter­back, what would you think?

Photo cour­tesy of ASU Ath­let­ics / Keith Cline

For­mer East­side quar­ter­back turned line­backer Justin Wray was sec­ond on the team in tack­les at Ap­palachian State Univer­sity as a sopho­more in 2010. Wray will red­shirt the up­com­ing sea­son to re­hab a shoul­der in­jury.

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