QB big deal in Edmonton

IAN BUSBY -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 8:52 AM ET

A year ago, Ricky Ray was walking the streets in downtown Manhattan while his Edmonton Eskimos teammates defeated the Calgary Stampeders in the Labour Day Classic.

The star CFL QB, however, just blended into the New York crowd, nary a fan in sight bothering the NFL hopeful.

"There's so many more important people than a fourth-string quarterback," said Ray, who was with the Jets at the time. "I got lost in the shuffle.

"In Edmonton, we have such passionate fans I get recognized every time I go out. They really welcomed me back and wished me well in games."

Well, Ray has slid back behind centre nicely with the Eskimos after one season with the Jets in which he suited up for five regular-season games and two playoff games, never seeing the field.

The experience was invaluable for Ray. The Happy Camp, Calif., native enjoyed living in the big city and taking his wife to nice restaurants and Broadway shows.

The 25-year-old also realized it's better to play than watch. He asked for his release this spring so he could come back to the Eskimos and try to lead them back to Grey Cup glory.

By watching pros like Chad Pennington, Curtis Martin and Wayne Chrebet, Ray absorbed plenty from the NFL machine.

"It's typical to watch every snap you take in practice with the position coach there," Ray said. "They film everything and you watch it all.

"Up here, you don't have enough meeting time to watch it all. Down there, you watch everything because they give you the time to do it. We would be there from seven in the morning until 4:30, then the quarterbacks would stay longer.

"We were probably there from seven until seven. Practice, meeting and watching film. Here, they're only allowed to have you for four-and-a-half hours."

Standing on the sidelines hasn't hurt Ray at all. The Eskimos came out blazing on offence with Ray at the helm. Heading into Week 11 of the season, Ray was leading the CFL with 3,240 yards passing.

If you ask the Sacramento State product, though, he will say he hasn't played his best in 2005, which could still be a product of shaking off the rust.

"I knew it would take some time to adjust," Ray said. "I really didn't know what to expect. We got off to a good start and we put up some good numbers and built some confidence.

"You always try to play the perfect game. You will never do it but you can get close sometimes. It felt like I hadn't really played a full game yet. Good thing we got onto a roll last week."

After living in the Big Apple, Edmonton might seem like a step down. That's not how Ray feels. He enjoys walking down the streets in Alberta's capital and hearing well wishes or criticism from fans. It's a good way to know what he's doing matters.

"It wasn't tough coming back," Ray said. "I'm from a small town in California. This has a small-town feel. Edmonton is a big city but it has a small-town feel."

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BIO BLITZ

QUARTERBACK RICKY RAY

Born -- Oct. 22, 1979.

Birthplace -- Happy Camp, Calif.

Ht./Wt. -- 6 ft. 3 in., 210 lb.

College -- Sacramento State.

Family -- Wife Allyson.

Years in CFL -- Three.

Previous CFL stops -- None.

Did you know -- Played two seasons at Shasta College in Redding, Calif. ... Played seven games with Fresno of afl2, where he was coached by former CFLer Rick Worman.


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