Ray's happy to be home

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 9:51 AM ET

It's like Ricky Ray never went away.

"It feels so comfortable," he says.

"To come back and play and be where I was before has been much easier and a lot more fun than my year was last year," said the quarterback who took a shot at the National Football League with the New York Jets.

"Last year was a new experience for me. It was the first time in my whole career I hadn't played. It just feels so good to be back up here. It's been so positive. The people have been great. The two years I had up here were two pretty good years. I had two trips to the Grey Cup and one championship.

"It feels good to be somewhere big but still small enough to appreciate, where people recognize you and are cheering for you.

"It's not much different than when I left, the way people treat me when I go to the mall, a movie theatre or wherever. It's pretty much the same."

The one thing different is that Ray is back as a married man with his wife Allyson here. He's building a house in St. Albert with every intention of living here long-term.

"We met in high school in Redding, California. She was my childhood sweetheart. We've pretty much been together ever since. We've stuck together. We went to university together. I bounced around a lot, going to the San Francisco 49ers. She found a job in Sacramento. We've been supporting each other for a long time.

"My career's been pretty wild," said the QB who played indoor arena2 football where former CFLer Rick Worman coached him and recommended him to go to the Eskimos.

"She quit her job to move up here. She's done a lot of moving.

"We were married Jan. 17 last year and she came to New York for the season with me. Now, for the first time in our lives, we're going to have a house and a home. It'll be our first house. We've been living in apartments ever since we moved out of our parents' houses.

"We decided on St. Albert because that's where a few of the coaches, other people in the Eskimos office and some friends we have away from football live.

"This year will be our first winter up here. The first two years, we always left in November. Now I'm going to have to take up curling, ice fishing or something.

"I'm sure we'll go back to Redding for Christmas and stay down there probably until the end of January. But we intend to have a good taste of a Canadian winter.

"It'll be good to have other players up here to be part of a workout group. Jason Maas lives up here year-round. Being able to work out together will be pretty good," he said of his friend and back-up quarterback.

"In other years, the only way I could keep up was with phone calls and the internet. I'm looking forward to being part of the community, doing whatever I can do to help the team sell season tickets in the off-season and doing community things. I think it's good to be involved in the community and to be around the fans and to make friends within the community outside of the dressing room and the organization."

There really wasn't much of that being an extra with the New York Jets last year.

He still swears he doesn't regret the decision despite people like Warren Moon advising him to stay in Canada for five or six years and go to the NFL only if he knew he'd be going to a situation where he was not going to be carrying a clipboard.

"Every situation is different. You have to evaluate the decision at the time. When I made the decision, I was under the impression I was going to compete for the No. 2 job against another young quarterback. I didn't know they were going to bring in a veteran guy like Quincy Carter."

Ray dressed for five regular-season games and both the wildcard and divisional playoff games for the New York Jets. But he didn't have a single snap.

"Education-wise, I don't regret what I did. I'm glad I did it. I learned a lot being around an NFL team, seeing how they prepared a game plan. And the Jets were a field goal away from the AFC Championship game. It was great to experience what the playoff atmosphere is like in the NFL.

"I think it'll pay off in the long term. Any time you can go and learn and take in stuff and get experience to make you better, it's worthwhile.

"It gave me a different perspective on a lot of things."

One is how much he wants to play no matter what they pay - and his three-year plus an option contract with the Eskimos isn't for chump change. Another is how much he missed the environment in Edmonton and the Canadian game.

"Going back to the NFL is not something I'm thinking about. I enjoy playing here. That's why I came back to Edmonton. I knew I could be happy here."

Being on the outside looking in with the Jets wasn't a whole lot of fun.

"It was a lot different. I didn't have to talk to the media for one thing," he laughed.

"But sitting back and watching ... I kinda put in all the work during the week without the satisfaction of being able to play in the game. I certainly missed that."

There was at least some concern when Ray returned to the Eskimos that he'd be dealing with a lot of rust.

The focus quickly turned from that to his more immediate health concerns when he went down with a knee injury early in the first pre-season game against the Blue Bombers at Commonwealth Stadium.

After a week of debate if he'd start or even play the opener against Ottawa, Ray was 31-for-45 for 354 yards. He followed that up with a 28-for-40 night for 469 yards in Winnipeg, the highest passing yards total in his pro career. He was 25-for-45 for 263 yards in Montreal last week.

"I've had pretty good games. I wasn't concerned about coming back and wondering if I'd be able to throw the football. I didn't spend a year sitting on the couch. My only concerns were getting used to the Canadian game again and getting used to the Eskimos players again.

"I just reminded myself that when I first came here I was coming from arena football and I went in to play for the fifth game of the season. I did fine. I just told myself, hey, go through camp and get used to it all again."

One of Ray's trademarks early in his career has been his touchdown to interception ratio - 59 TDs to 22 interceptions in his first two years here. He goes into his fourth start of the season with six touchdown passes and three interceptions. Ray's also rushed for three of his own TD's.

"The touchdown-to-interception ratio is something in which I take a lot of pride. I don't want to turn the ball over. It's something I've always been able to do pretty well.

"That's my game - making good decisions. If I get away from that, I'm not playing my game. I don't have the arm to throw it in there late. My game is to make good reads, throw accurate passes, use the talented teammates I have around me and let everything else take care of itself."

In his first tour of duty, Ray completed 575 of 874 attempts for 7,632 yards and a 65.8% completion rate.

Ray's falling off a potato chip truck story to take the Eskimos to the 2002 Grey Cup and then back to win it in 2003 is already legend.

He's convinced he'll be back there again and again.

"I'm just one piece of the puzzle. Everybody has to do it together. You can have the best players and the best coaches but if you're not playing together doing things you have to do to get there, it's not going to happen.

"But I have experience playing in two Grey Cup games and I definitely feel like we can get back."


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