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If you're not familiar with former Michigan strong safety, Marcus Ray, then a cursory glance at his stats and awards will inform you that he was a hell of a player during his time in the Maize and Blue. Most significantly, Marcus started all 12 games for the National Championship-winning '97 team, earning all-conference recognition. Since then, he's played snaps in the NFL, spent years as a coach, and published a book on life. Below are his personal insights and entertaining memories from an enjoyable conversation.
TTB: Your book “Rays of Light: Let there be Light” touches on many elements of the human experience. It has been described as entertaining, intellectual and one-of-a-kind. Can you tell us more about it?
MR: It's an inspirational quote book, and I use a lot of puns, idioms, plays on words - just different ways to see light from a more practical side. I've been speaking at middle schools, Juvenal homes and prison systems, trying to inspire people to live their lives and not make things too complicated...I think what I say, people can relate to.
TTB: So this book sounds like a compilation of your life experiences and an outreach effort to help guide others along life's path. Is that right?
MR: ...what I've done is learn from other peoples' poor choices and my own and follow it up, providing a solution. The whole premise is that all is not lost. And I actually got that from Michigan...my Michigan roots and experiences, I've been able to remix 'em, if you will, and paraphrase them into something I think can be a global message.
TTB: Transitioning into your playing days now, what are some of your fondest memories from from the '97 season?
MR: Well number one, I remember that we made a commitment to win the championship before the season started, like Spring Ball. The seniors had left; the freshman weren't there yet. It was those core guys, sophomores, juniors, soon-to-be-seniors, and we kind of looked in the mirror and said "we're just tired of losing." We made a commitment in the spring of '97 and we said we're not going to lose to Northewestern; we're not going to lose on Hail Marys; we're just not going to lose.
...but my fondest memories would be the way we showed resilience against Notre Dame, turning the ball over 3 times in the 4th quarter inside our own territory and we stuffed 'em. I remember Iowa going up 21-7 on us in our house, and Tim Dwight returned a punt on us - I had two interceptions that game. Those games built our character and proved to us that we were battle tested...I just think the comradery of that team--friendship, brotherhood, loyalty--represented everything that Michigan stands for...
TTB: You were a highly rated prospect out of Columbus who selected U-M. What was that like?
MR: As far as growing up, I've never liked the Buckeyes. I told someone I was born in [Ohio State] University hospital - I think I slapped the doctor and told my mom, 'Let's get out of here.' Like, this place is not for me. Everyone down here loves Ohio State so much that my little, small personality at the time was that I wanted to be different...and once Michigan started recruiting me, my dreams started becoming reality.
TTB: Speaking of OSU, they've been in the media for all the wrong (right?) reasons. Do you have any thoughts on that?
MR: I wasn't jumpin' for joy but I wasn't exactly complaining neither...I mean, we've had three sub-par seasons in a row, so we have our own mess to clean up. But I don't mind seeing those guys finally havin' to deal with something. But all these Buckeye fans want to make excuses, but I say, 'hey, just because you got caught doesn't mean that everyone's doing it.'
I remember Lloyd Carr when he suspended me my senior year: he didn't even have all the facts but said, 'we're doing things the right way; I'm going to hold a press conference and put out a suspension.' And not just me, but he punished guys who just weren't doin' the right thing. And I think it helps you out latter on in life. It teaches you that you're not above the rules; we're not going to win at all costs; we're going to win the right way...and at Michigan, you're trained to believe that it's more important to be a part of something that's bigger than yourself. Ohio State, they think they're bigger than everyone else, so what seems big to us is small to them.
TTB: Can you tell us more about the relationships that you developed at U-M?
MR: Charles and I were actually the closest out of everyone and we kind of were in our own world, only because we were roommates, and as you got older, you move out of the dorms. But those relationships, man...I mean, Charles was my best man. Sam Sword was at my wedding. We all still support each other. It's truly one of those things that we were so blessed to be with such a great group of guys--and we had such a great leader--that we still all connect to this day.
TTB: You spent some time in the NFL, too. So given your experience as an athlete at the college and pro levels, how important do you think it is for elite-level college football programs to consistently send players to the NFL?
MR: ...I think the schools who are elite - they do need to produce their fair share of professional athletes because that's most peoples' dreams that play that sport [CFB]...I know that Chad Henne signed with Michigan over Penn State because Michigan really was quarterback U in his last 20 years...
Marcus is also expecting to release another book, titled "1997: The Making of a Champion" around this time next year. Publication is temporarily delayed to include more "Brady Hoke stories," and Charles Woodson will write the foreword. Marcus wants to make fans feel like they "put the shoes on, wore the winged helmet, and touched the banner(!)." Stay current with MR by following him on Twitter or liking him on Facebook.