By (Matthew Speakman)

NEW ORLEANS- Alabama defensive end LaBryan Ray did not expect to play this season. Rarely does a defensive lineman break into the rotation in their first year at Alabama.

Ray did just that, because his team needed him to.

Alabama head coach Nick Saban approached Ray after defensive end Da’Shawn Hand went down with an injury against Ole Miss. He told Ray he was going to have to step up. It was a surprise, but Ray embraced it.

“It was a rush of excitement for me,” Ray said. “I wasn’t expecting that to happen. I thought I was going to be redshirted. It motivates you, because when one person goes down, when your name is called, you have to pick it back up so there’s no drop off.”

Originally a five-star recruit from Huntsville, Ala., Ray’s athleticism is off the charts. He stands at a towering 6-foot-5, 272 pounds, but still has the burst to chase down athletic quarterbacks.

Saban originally wanted to redshirt Ray. With all of the injuries Alabama has been through, Saban decided to use Ray’s raw ability to help with the rotation.

“We thought he was capable of playing, so we put him in the position of we want to coach this guy and develop this guy so, if we need him to play, he can play,” Saban said. “And he embraced that role very well. And we did need him to play, and he did play, and he played well.”

Ray saw his first significant action against Texas A&M. It didn’t take him long to make a play.

In the fourth quarter, Texas A&M had the ball back, down 12, hoping to score again to cut the game to one possession. Ray fought off his block as quarterback Kellen Mond scrambled out to the left. Ray chased him down and dropped him for a significant loss.

“That was a great moment and is something I’ll remember for the rest of my life,” Ray said. “It was unexpected. It was a great moment.”

That play showed the rare closing that Ray possesses. Ray’s teammates rave about his physical ability. His athleticism jumped out at them from day one.

“He’s very raw, athletic and big,” defensive lineman Isaiah Buggs said. “He’s one of the biggest freshman I’ve seen. He’s one of the most equipped freshman I’ve seen in a while.”

Defensive lineman Da’ron Payne is another guy who played significant minutes during his freshman season. He’s helped Ray handle the situation. He said Ray is working hard to learn the ins and outs of a complicated defense.

He can tell Ray wants to be the complete package, much like himself.

“He always has his nose in the playbook,” Payne said. “I’m really excited for him. I think he’s going to be a really good player. When I see him out there next to me making plays, I always get really excited.”

Ray played in four games before suffering a broken foot in practice during the week leading up to the Mercer game. He missed the Iron Bowl with that injury. Ray has returned to the team since then, but is still getting back into the swing of things.

Ahead of a semifinal matchup with Clemson, Saban updated Ray’s status. He is slowing getting more involved at practice.

“His status for this game is he is available to play, but he’s also in sort of the same situation that several of our players were for the Auburn game,” Saban said. “ They were medically cleared to play, but they were limited in terms of the number of reps that they could get in practice, so their role in the game had to reflect that. And I think that is where LaBryan Ray is.”

Ray could have a limited role against Clemson, but this season is something he’ll never forget. Ray has shown all of the athleticism and skills to be a productive lineman for Alabama throughout his career.

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Source:: The Crimson White Sports