Bron­cos line­backer re­turn­ing to his home­town more ma­ture on and o≠ the field

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Cameron Wolfe

A mid a fully cov­ered up­per body of art­work, a large bold se­ries of num­bers on Shane Ray’s right fore­arm screams the loud­est. Each tat­too has a spe­cial mean­ing, Ray said, but 5600 best en­cap­su­lates who he is and where he is go­ing.

It rep­re­sents the block he grew up on off 56th Street and Col­lege Av­enue in the heart of Kansas City, Mo.’s 64130 ZIP code — an area known as the “Mur­der Fac­tory.” That is Ray’s hood. He is proud of it. It led to him wear­ing jersey No. 56.

There aren’t many suc­cess sto­ries that come out of that area. Ray beat the odds, even though anger and mis­chief de­fined his child­hood.

“It’s what made me,” Ray said of his old neigh­bor­hood. “I wouldn’t be me with­out it. But I had to get out of there. I re­ally don’t know what I would be do­ing if it wasn’t for foot­ball. It saved me.”

In his se­cond sea­son with the Bron­cos, his team­mates and coaches say the out­side line­backer’s big­gest area of growth has been his ma­tu­rity. He is emerg­ing as the tal­ented pass-rush­ing com­ple­ment to Von Miller that the Bron­cos en­vi­sioned when they se­lected the for­mer Mis­souri star in the first round of the 2015 draft. Now, he is seek­ing re­spect.

Sun­day, he re­turns home to show the lo­cals how far he has come as a player and a per­son. He was born in

Kansas City, but he is be­ing molded in Den­ver. He will spend the week­end home with plans to visit fam­ily, friends and oth­ers who helped get him out of the Mur­der Fac­tory.

It’s why Ray won’t ever hide his back art­work, a col­lage of tat­toos cap­tioned “The Town” with Kansas City’s big­gest sta­ples — Gates’ BBQ , the Kansas City Roy­als, Sport­ing K.C. and the Chiefs, his fa­vorite team grow­ing up. He has heard the dis­dain of Bron­cos fans about the tat­toos, but he tells them to hear his story be­fore they crit­i­cize.

Tues­days usu­ally are days off for the Den­ver play­ers, who use them for re­cov­ery. Ray wasn’t listed on the in­jury re­port for Sun­day’s game at Ar­row­head Sta­dium, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t hurt­ing. Still, he wasn’t about to take a rest day.

Ray and his mother, Se­b­rina John­son, fought through rush-hour traf­fic Tues­day to ar­rive at the Den­ver Res­cue Mis­sion by 5 p.m. to drop off sev­eral boxes and con­tain­ers of shoes. They launched the Shane’s Shoes pro­gram and Ray’s Aware­ness foun­da­tion on Mon­day to help low-in­come fam­i­lies in Den­ver and Kansas City. It’s the first two of many char­i­ta­ble ini­tia­tives mother and son want to plant and grow in the in­ner cities.

“When Shane was younger he used to say, ‘Mom, if I make it to the NFL, I’m go­ing to give it back to the com­mu­nity. I’m go­ing to do it in the hood,’ ” John­son You can see it in his eyes. Some of the stuff I point out on film that didn’t used to bother him, now it both­ers him. He re­ally wants to be an elite player. He wants when you talk about de­fense, you have to bring up his name. He re­ally wants that star­dom.” Bron­cos star Von Miller, on team­mate Shane Ray

kansas city, mo.» All along, the Bron­cos’ best hope of mak­ing it to the play­offs was to win their fi­nal two games and hope for a lit­tle help along the way.

But af­ter Mi­ami’s 34-31 over­time win against Buf­falo on Satur­day, that hope is now their only shot. The Bron­cos (8-6) must win at Kansas City on Christ­mas night and then at home against Oak­land on New Year’s Day to have any chance of ad­vanc­ing to the post­sea­son as the No. 6 seed in the AFC. Even with a pair of vic­to­ries, the Bron­cos would still need help to earn that wild-card berth.

If the Bron­cos lose or tie at Kansas City, they will be elim­i­nated from play­off con­tention — a sharp drop for the reign­ing Su­per Bowl cham­pi­ons.

The Bron­cos haven’t lost at Kansas City since 2010, but they’re only 3-13 at Ar­row­head Sta­dium in De­cem­ber. This year, they face tougher odds in part be­cause of in­juries. Safety T.J. Ward (con­cus­sion), in­side line­backer Bran­don Mar­shall (ham­string) and tight ends A.J. Derby and Vir­gil Green (both con­cus­sions) won’t play Sun­day against the Chiefs.

Bron­cos out­side line­backer Shane Ray sacks Pa­tri­ots quar­ter­back Tom Brady dur­ing last Sun­day’s game in Den­ver. Ray, a for­mer Mis­souri star who was a first-round pick in the 2015 draft, has 11 sacks in his NFL ca­reer — in­clud­ing seven this sea­son. He­len H. Richard­son, The Den­ver Post

De­Mar­cus Ware says of team­mate Shane Ray, above: “He’s play­ing every day with a lit­tle bit more brute force.” John Leyba, The Den­ver Post

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