|Kyle Ray is sporting a new number this season but
it runs in the family.
Franklin athletics photo
Franklin quarterback Kyle Ray walked into the office of head coach Mike Leonard last spring and asked a simple question.
“Can quarterbacks wear numbers in the 20s?”
Leonard, who knew a little bit about Franklin football history, knew exactly what his star quarterback was getting at. Ray’s father, Rob Ray, was an NAIA All-America wide receiver at Franklin in 1980 and still holds several of Franklin’s receiving records.
The elder Ray died June 8, 2009, after a four-year bout with cancer. In Ray’s final year, the thought of honoring his father by wearing his No. 26, although unusual for a quarterback, couldn’t have meant more to him.
“For the first three years, Kyle wore No. 10,” Leonard said. “I told him there was precedent for that because Bernie Kosar wore No. 20 and Doug Flutie wore No. 22. I told him he could wear No. 26 if he’d like. We had a senior running back who gladly gave up wearing No. 26 for Kyle.
“Our team thinks the world of Kyle and has rallied around him. They’ve admired how he’s handled losing his father.”
After playing in a two-quarterback platoon system last year, Ray won the job full time since the second game of the season against Valparaiso, where he passed for 382 yards and four touchdowns in a 42-7 victory. Over the course of the season, Ray is completing 72.3 percent of his passes (149 of 206), throwing 23 touchdowns against six interceptions.
Ray said he believes wearing No. 26 has helped him stay focused.
“My brother was the first one to think about the number change,” Ray said. “Also, I think it gives me an edge because he had such a good season his senior year at Franklin. It motivates me to have as good a season as he had.”
With Ray at the helm, Franklin is now 7-1 overall, rebounding from a season-opening loss to Carthage. The Grizzlies are a perfect 6-0 in Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference play. Ray’s 23 touchdown passes and 264.5 yards-per-game average are both HCAC best.
Last Saturday, Ray led Franklin to a 69-10 victory over Anderson, setting a school record for points scored. The Grizzlies have outscored its HCAC opponents 304-56 this year.
Ray said he originally considered attending St. Francis in Fort Wayne, Ind., but admitted it was always his choice to follow in his father’s footsteps.
“I think about him all the time,” the younger Ray said about his father. “Football was our thing. I remember him taking me to Franklin games as a kid and I thought how cool it would be to follow in his footsteps. Any time I’m around football, I think of him and how proud he would be of me.
“I didn’t worry about being in his shadow. I know it’s is been really cool for my grandma because she said I look like him out there. I think it’s been a blessing for her because it brings back memories for her.”
Leonard said his coaching philosophy is to give as many Franklin players a chance to play. He said it was senior Nick Purichia who emerged at the end of last season as the starter. When Purichia got hurt in the Carthage opener, Ray stepped up to win the job and has never looked back.
“At this level, football is not a business but an educational tool,” Leonard said. “If a guy’s playing for the love of game, I want to give him a chance to play. Kyle won the job during the first two games of the season and has played very well. His stats speak for itself and he’s not making bad decisions on where to throw the ball.”
Leonard laughed with talking about Ray’s one weakness, running the ball. Leonard said even then, Ray has figured out a way to get the job done.
“He’s not a great threat to run the ball,” Leonard said with a chuckle. “He can step up and make guys miss in kind of an ugly way. He’s not going to win any open-field tackle drills, but in a slow footed kind of way he can makes guys miss. I can hear guys laughing on the sideline when he makes a defensive guy miss.”
While Ray may not be fleet of foot, his work has given Franklin confidence to make the playoffs and advance. Ray was back-up in 2008 when Franklin won two playoff games. He said that changed the attitude of Grizzly players.
“We want to win these next two games and get into the playoffs,” Ray said. “We still have to focus on a game at a time. Before my sophomore year, we just hoped to get into the playoffs. After that year, we realized we could win games in the playoffs and advance. That has given us a lot of confidence going in.”
Ray said with the offense and defense playing at a high level, Franklin now has its eyes on the playoffs and beyond – one game at a time.