Michigan State's Arthur Ray Jr. has been named the winner of the 2011 Discover Orange Bowl/FWAA Courage Award. Ray, a senior offensive lineman from Chicago, returned to football this season, four years after bone cancer derailed his career.
"This is a tremendous award for a young man who has conquered all of the odds up against him," Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said. "He's played in games this year and has participated on the practice field daily. It's been a long road. He was on crutches for almost two years, from 2007 to 2009. He's really a living example to our football team on what you can do with a positive attitude and if you just continue to work, how you can conquer all obstacles."
Ray signed with Michigan State as a highly recruited lineman from Chicago's Mount Carmel High School in 2007, but was soon diagnosed with cancer in his left leg. Through nine surgeries - including four bone grafts - countless rounds of chemotherapy and several outbreaks of infection, he was unable to practice or play. For almost two years, he was unable to walk without crutches. He had been given a medical disqualification and remained on scholarship with Michigan State. But last April, doctors cleared him to resume football.
Still, practicing was one thing; playing quite another. On Sept. 3, when the Spartans opened the season against Youngstown State, starting left guard Joel Foreman - a fifth-year senior and a team co-captain - asked Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio if he could give up his position to his friend. Foreman had started 22 straight games and 36 of 38 in his career. Ray participated in only the first play, but blocked two players. He has since played against Florida Atlantic and Indiana, and continues to practice with the goal of earning more playing time.
For the sixth straight year, the Football Writers Association of America and the Discover Orange Bowl announced a weekly nominee for the Discover Orange Bowl/FWAA Courage Award each Wednesday during the season. A blue-ribbon panel determined the award's recipient from those weekly nominees. The Courage Award was created by ESPN The Magazine's senior writer Gene Wojciechowski, also an FWAA member. A select group of FWAA members vote on the recipient each year. The requirements for nomination include displaying courage on or off the field, including overcoming an injury or physical handicap, preventing a disaster or living through hardship.