Kip Hall has seen it all from his beloved alma mater, the University of Georgia, this year. Players arrested for drinking, missing court dates and breaking and entering; defeats by weaker programs, and a record in free fall.
Indeed, the Druid Hills coach wishes the Georgia Bulldogs would learn a thing or two about character from his senior captain, Joseph Ray. And for good reason.
The linebacker has been a galvanizing force for a team enjoying its best season in 20 years. Consider: at 4-4 thus far, the Red Devils have already matched their highest wins total since 1993. Another victory would give Druid Hills five wins for only the fourth time since 1985.
For Ray, that’s a sweet reward for a career that may continue at Princeton University. “He has character, grades, and an unbelievable work ethic,” said Hall of the player he started as a freshman. “He has what we’ve been missing for years – leadership.”
Throughout those tough years, Ray always showed up on time to practice, kept high grades and quietly absorbed the playbook, never trying to show up teammates, said the coach. Nor did he fuss when asked to play different positions.
Impressed with his humble protégé, Hall made Ray captain two years ago – a privilege usually reserved for seniors. It was an easy decision.
“He always led by example, has always been focused, never played around or been mischievous,” said Hall. “The players looked up to that.”
Ray never had the prolific position on the team, like quarterback or running back, or scored touchdowns. Until this season, he’d been a defensive lineman and offensive tackle and helped with special teams. Becoming team captain, though, meant confronting a self-confessed shyness, which caught some teammates off guard.
“Through the years I’ve been a leader by example but knew I had to work on being more vocal,” he said. “But anytime I saw something wrong [I learned] to speak up and make sure it gets done right. People were like, ‘Oh, Joseph’s saying something.’ But they got used to it.”
Ray’s vocal chords and calming influence will be put to the test in the most hallowed of arenas this weekend, the Georgia Dome.
Adding to the sense of occasion, it’s also where Druid Hills has the opportunity to get an unprecedented fifth win. “I’m very excited about that,” he said. “But I’m also excited about playing Washington. So far, this is the best record we’ve had in 20 years at this point. Our goal is to get a winning record.”
It’s a target, however, that must stay in the back of his mind after practice. Ray’s 3.4 GPA must be maintained to earn a scholarship to Princeton or Wofford—schools showing interest—and anything less than a “B” won’t suffice in a household with high expectations. A “C” would trigger a football suspension from dad.
That’s an unthinkable prospect, even if juggling sport and academics is, at times, taxing: “I get tired but it’s more if I don’t [play football], then I let the team down, and I want to help them out. So I need to keep going.”
Words like these are music to the ears of any coach. “[Recruiters] go after talent, but they want character too,” said Hall. “Character is ingrained in players in high school, and someone like Joseph is the kind of player that makes programs proud.”