After two frustrating seasons, things are finally starting to feel normal again for LaBryan Ray. The Alabama defensive lineman has spent the majority of the past two years on the sideline, suffering a season-ending foot injury in 2019 before dealing with a lingering elbow injury which limited him to just seven appearances this past season.
Entering his redshirt senior season, Ray is hoping to fend off the injury bug for good as he looks to lead an experienced Crimson Tide defensive front.
“I’m doing better,” Ray said when asked about his elbow during a Friday Zoom call with reporters. “I’m getting to 100 percent. Overall, my body type, I feel like myself.”
Ray entered last season on the watch lists for the Outland and Bronko Nagurski trophies. Before injuring his elbow, he started in each of Alabama’s first three games, recording 11 tackles and half a sack. However, the setback limited him to just 27 snaps over four appearances the remainder of the season, making him primarily a spectator during the Tide’s national championship run.
In total, injuries caused Ray to miss 16 games the last two seasons. Even then, the defensive lineman has appeared in 20 or more snaps in just six appearances over that span. While the time on the sideline was tough to swallow, Ray believes it might end up proving beneficial in the long run.
“I think I learned a lot,” he said. “Every player has their injuries. In that time frame, I think you kinda take on the role of being the extra eyes, like an extra coach out there. There might be things you see that other people on the field don’t so you bring it up to them. It helps the d-line and helps the team. You have to make the most out of it, really.”
Ray, a native of Madison, Ala., signed with the Tide as the No. 1 player in the state in the 2017 class. Had injuries not paused his promising start Alabama, there’s a solid chance he would be preparing for the NFL draft this month instead of taking part in his fifth spring camp. Now heading into what seems like a crossroads in his career, he’s looking to take advantage of a final chance to prove his potential at the college level.
“Just improving my game and just having another year where I can prove it to myself, prove it to my teammates that I can play at a high level and maintain it,” Ray said. “I just have a lot of personal goals as well that I definitely want to accomplish. That’s what I’m here to do.”
Along with making a sustained impact on the field, Ray said he’s also looking to use his experience to become a bigger voice in the Tide’s locker room as well. After all, back-to-back quiet seasons have left him hungry to finally make a statement.
“It’s definitely important for me,” Ray said. “I definitely took my time and had to deal with a lot of things. I think now it’s that time to take it to the next level and be the leader that I should be.”