STILLWATER — Jason Ray remembers the 2002 contest between Oklahoma State and UCLA he attended because of the matchup between Rashaun Woods and Ricky Manning Jr. As a receiver at Broken Arrow High School, Ray was naturally intrigued by that individual battle.
That game was also the first time Ray met Mike Gundy.
“He asked me to send him some recruiting tape and that whole deal,” Ray recalled. “It was a very subtle, small moment between he and I, but I did shake his hand.”
In the years that followed, Ray's only interaction with the Cowboy coach was the occasional quick hello at conventions.
Until this past offseason, when Gundy expressed interest in — and ultimately hired — Ray as the Cowboys' new inside receivers coach.
“Knowing what has already been established here and getting an opportunity to work in a great program such as this, it was a no-brainer,” Ray said.
On an OSU staff that underwent a bit of a youth movement this offseason — new assistants Mike Yurcich, Joe Bob Clements, Tim Duffie and Ray are all under the age of 40 — Ray is the youngest of the bunch. Young enough to have a recruiting profile on Rivals, which still features interviews from 2002 and 2003 and details offers from schools like Missouri, Nebraska, West Virginia and Tulsa (but not OSU or Oklahoma).
Ray wound up at Missouri, where he caught balls from Heisman finalist Chase Daniel in a spread offense similar to OSU's and was a captain of the Tigers' 12-2 team in 2007.
Coaching wasn't an immediate option after Ray's playing career ended. Instead, he got a job with Missouri's Tiger Scholarship Fund, which gave him a glimpse of the administrative side of a college football program.
But he still had that itch to get back on the sideline. And Dave Christensen, then Missouri's offensive coordinator, promised to give his former player that chance whenever he got an opportunity to become a head coach.
“(Christensen) called me into his office and told me he wanted me to go with him,” Ray said. “I shook his hand. I didn't know at the time where it would have been.”