MADISON, Ala. — LaBryan Ray remembers the moment football changed his life.
Early on at James Clemens High School in Madison, Ala., Ray worked his way into becoming a top prospect in the state and had a few offers from some smaller schools.
But during the spring of his junior year, his recruitment went through the stratosphere. Why? Because Alabama got involved.
“It went from silence to chaos,” Ray told SEC Country.
Once schools like Alabama offer a prospect, coaches and programs from around the country quickly take notice.
The Crimson Tide offered Ray a scholarship on Feb. 9, 2016. Less than three weeks later, Ray held offers from Oklahoma, Florida State, Tennessee and Nebraska, among many others.
“It got to the point where three or four coaches a day would offer you a scholarship to come play,” Ray said. “These were great universities. It was a lot going on, so I didn’t know how to handle it. It wasn’t until a month later when things quieted down that I was able to process what happened.
“I went from being known in the state to being known nationwide. It’s something that I’ll remember for the rest of my life.”
James Clemens coach Wade Waldrop always envisioned Ray garnering that level of national attention. He felt it would come sooner, and once it did, Waldrop watched as his star player handled everything with grace.
“If he struggled with it, I didn’t see it,” Waldrop told SEC Country. “I think that’s a testament to the people that are around him. Just a lot of people around him to keep him humble.”
Ray ultimately picked Alabama over Auburn, Florida, Ole Miss, Tennessee and a laundry list of others.
He likes being close enough to home so his family can drive up to see him play. He’ll also have childhood friends Kyriq McDonald and Kendall Randolph at Alabama with him (McDonald attended James Clemens High, Randolph attended Bob Jones High).
McDonald, a defensive back, and Randolph, an offensive lineman, signed with Alabama during the 2017 cycle. The trio grew up playing together in youth leagues and middle school before becoming stars in high school.
“LaBryan is a unique personality,” Waldrop said. “He’s quiet and humble. He just comes to work. He brings a professional attitude. That’s unique in a high school locker room because you don’t get that a lot. Alabama is getting a good one.”
‘This is the future right here’
Waldrop first met Ray when he was an overgrown eighth-grader. Because of new school zoning, Ray attended James Clemens instead of Bob Jones High School, another powerhouse in Madison.
Waldrop recalls Ray and Alabama signee Kyriq McDonald having to report to James Clemens for workouts with the rising freshmen while still enrolled at Discovery Middle School.
“I remember the first time I saw him,” Waldrop said, laughing. “I took a picture of him and sent it to one of our coaches that’s now on staff and said, ‘This is the future right here.’ ”
Waldrop joked that he doesn’t recall hearing Ray talk for two or three years other than to say, “Yes sir.”
Ray is as humble as they come considering how many headlines and accolades he’s accumulated. The 247Sports composite tabbed Ray as the top player in the state of Alabama for the 2017 cycle. Ray is a composite 5-star defensive lineman and the No. 26 overall player nationally. He is the No. 1 strong-side defensive end prospect.
Ray finished his senior season at James Clemens High School with 124 tackles, including 25 tackles for loss, 13 sacks, 16 quarterback hurries, 2 fumble recoveries and a blocked punt. As a junior in 2015, Ray recorded 113 tackles with 20 tackles for loss, 12 sacks and 3 forced fumbles.
Ray was a two-time Alabama Sports Writers Association 7A Lineman of the Year and two-time all-state selection.
“My dad always told me that if you put in the work, everything else will take care of itself,” Ray said. “Just a hard, hard worker. I know I’m gonna play with 110 percent, be relentless and try to wreak havoc. All of that in one.”
Hoping for freshman playing time
Ray joins a Crimson Tide team looking for defensive linemen to step up after the departure of Jonathan Allen and Dalvin Tomlinson. Da’Ron Payne is the only returning starter.
Ray is one of two defensive linemen who enrolled at Alabama this summer. Phil Mathis from Monroe, La., is the other.
Junior college transfer Isaiah Buggs, who enrolled in January, was the only other defensive lineman the Crimson Tide signed in the 2017 cycle.
“I do want to play early. I would definitely love to,” Ray said. “Is there a chance I may get redshirted? Yeah. But I’m not really thinking of that. I’m trying to go in there and play and show the coaches what I’ve got, just for a chance.
“I’m hoping I can get some playing time as a freshman. Anything can happen. I’m ready for the future and to see what it holds.”
Alabama is no stranger to playing freshmen defensive linemen. Allen, A’Shawn Robinson and Payne each contributed in their first seasons on campus. So even if he doesn’t start, there’s a strong chance Ray is able to break into the rotation.
Ray said he’s spoken with Alabama’s coaching staff and more specifically defensive line coach Karl Dunbar about being versatile enough to rush from the edge as well as slide inside in certain defensive packages. The role sounds similar to the one Allen played throughout his All-American career at Alabama.
Alabama fans can expect Ray to work hard once he hits campus. Like Allen, Ray could develop into one of the top ambassadors for Alabama football.
“Alabama is getting a guy that’s going to make the university proud every day because he’s going to come and represent the school in a positive way,” Waldrop said. “He’s going to work hard. He’s going to be a great teammate to the guys in the locker room. He’s going to be a great student-athlete.
“I feel like he’ll be a guy who when fans look back, they’re going to say they’re glad this young man picked the University of Alabama because he’s going to represent it well.”
Editor’s note: Interviews for this story were conducted prior to Ray enrolling at Alabama as a part of our Next Generation series.