Ricky Ray '01 (Business Administration)
Fielding Dreams: Former Hornets tackle the big time
The script for “Hornet Football: Beyond the Causeway” is part classic sports film, part Frank Capra movie. Through persistence and happenstance, defying the odds and being at the right place at the right time, it tells the story of Sac State players who’ve advanced to football fame.
They may have had to work harder getting noticed in the beginning than players from “Football U” schools, but that effort has helped them make names for themselves and the Hornet program. Sixteen former Hornets have been on active National Football League roster with two grabbing the NFL’s top prize— Super Bowl rings: John Gesek with the Dallas Cowboys in 1992 and 1993 and Lonie Paxton with the New England Patriots in 2001, 2003 and 2005.
Players from schools like Sac State that play in smaller conferences have to go the long road more so than a player from Florida or Michigan because scouts focus at the level of competition the player faces on a consistent basis, says former Hornet head coach Steve Mooshagian, who was wide receivers coach for the Cincinnati Bengals from 1999-2002.
“Every scout is looking for certain things in a player: speed, high energy, durability. But there are 50 guys who look like him. So the question is ‘What does he do differently?’ They’re looking at how he does in the spotlight, how will he fit in the position within the scope of the game.”
Persistence paid off for Ricky Ray. After graduation, the former Hornet quarterback landed a management trainee position with the Frito-Lay Corporation. But he never gave up on a career in professional football.
His migration between gridiron positions with the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers and New York Jets, the Canadian Football League’s Edmonton Eskimos, and the snack food company earned him the nickname “Frito Ray” in the Canadian press.
He guided the Eskimos to a Grey Cup in 2003, their first in 10 years. In 2005, he suited up as a backup quarterback for the Jets. Shasta-native Ray looks back on his days as a Hornet as an important first step into the spotlight. “Coming from a small town to go down and play Division I football, it was big for a kid like me,” he says. “Getting pickedby the 49ers changed my whole career. Then in Canada I got the chance to play.”
In New York he also met up with a familiar face, rookie tackle Marko Cavka, who was a freshman at Sac State during Ray’s senior year. After one year with the Jets, Ray returned to Edmonton before being traded to the Toronto Argonauts in 2011 and leading them to the Grey Cup in 2012.
Ray has passed for more than 44,000 yards and 230 touchdowns in his 11-year pro career.
This article was originally published in the Spring 2005 edition of Sac State Magazine.