Shane Ray had the good fortune of being the first-round draft pick of the Denver Broncos in 2015, the year they won the Super Bowl with DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller as bookend pass-rushers. In two short years with Ware, Ray got a graduate degree in football and life in the NFL from Ware, the four-time All-Pro and nine-time Pro Bowler who retired Monday after 12 seasons with the Cowboys and Broncos. The MMQB spoke with Ray about his mentor and friend.
ROBERT KLEMKO: Did the retirement catch you by surprise?
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SHANE RAY: I understood that it would hinge on his belief in what he could still do. He made the best decision for him.
KLEMKO: How did he impact your career?
RAY: You always hear the horror stories about guys getting to the league and having a veteran there who gives him the cold shoulder. But for me it was the opposite. From the day I got there we would work on hand drills after practice, or watch that extra 15 minutes of film. He helped me work on my technique every day. He told me I was going to be great and I didn’t have a choice if it was up to him, so he pushed me to be a better me every day. Even when I beat a guy and got a sack in practice, he always found a way to critique it and make me better. That just shows his leadership.
KLEMKO: How did he impact the way you approached the game off the field?
RAY: For one thing, he taught me the ins and outs of how to eat right. I would talk to him about his breakfast, how and when he eats, supplements and vitamins. When I first came into the league, I was eating Wendy’s and McDonald’s. I wasn’t eating how somebody who is invested in his body should eat. When I came to the Broncos I realized Von and DeMarcus had chefs. They ate during certain times. All that was new to me. Slowly I started adding it to my repertoire. You’d be surprised how many things I took from DeMarcus and added to my game. It helped me make the leap that I made.
KLEMKO: He and Peyton Manning spoke before Super Bowl 50. What do you recall about that?
RAY: I remember how emotional it was. He brought up the Lombardi trophy and talked about how iron sharpens iron. He talked about the struggle that we went through and the team was built and how we all bonded together to become what we were. Just to see the emotion on his and Peyton’s face when they spoke to the team is something I’ll never forget, because those are legends. I never thought that I would see Peyton or DeMarcus Ware choke up, but it showed the commitment and dedication these guys had. When that happened and I was a rookie it showed me how serious the game was and how much the legends invest in the game and this league. You take it for granted until you get in a room with a guy like that.
KLEMKO: He seemed to be the most accessible guy in the locker room, from a media standpoint. Was he like that with everybody?
RAY: Yes … he never focused on one group. He didn’t just give knowledge to me, or the outside linebackers. You would see DeMarcus go over to the offensive linemen and be like, hey man, I can tell with your stance you're about to do this, and this is how I would beat that. He’s always trying to find a way to be a voice and leader in the locker room. He’s the definition of how a vet should carry himself and how a leader should carry himself.
KLEMKO: What was your favorite off field moment with him?
RAY: My personal favorite moment was during Super Bowl week and that whole experience. Our room was a lot of laughter and jokes. We always have fun with the personalities in there. We’re all in there joking, and I said if DeMarcus fell over he’d need Life Alert. Then Von stole my joke and did it on the Ellen Degeneres Show.
Everybody dished it out, but it was like a brotherhood… I was DeMarcus’s rookie. So I would come in the room, and he’d be like, OK, I need you to go get a bonsai tree. Where am I going to get a bonsai tree? Falling asleep in rookie meetings and having DeMarcus and Von take pictures of me and post them online. I’ll cherish all those memories, because those are my big brothers, and they helped me come into the league and become the player I am today.
KLEMKO: And your favorite on-field memory?
RAY: DeMarcus works with me every day. This season when we would be a one-two punch, as soon as we would come to the sideline we were talking. OK, what do you see? What keys are you going off? We would come to the sideline and try to figure out how to beat that tackle. One game he told me to do a move, and it worked. I got a sack and I’m running to the sideline and he’s standing right there with that big smile with his hands out. That’s my favorite moment.
I talked to him a while back, and I didn’t know what was going to happen, but he said in the future he would still call me when he watched games and break down my game. He’s someone who honestly and truly wanted others to be great and be happy. I couldn’t have asked for a better situation and a better mentor coming into the league.