CLASS ROOM PHOTOS BY MATT BERDINKA
There are two types of competitions. The kind which involves competing against one’s peers, and the sort where one tries to be better than yesterday’s self.
On the football field, Isaac Ray competes against his peers first and against himself second. But in the class room, Ray puts pushing his own personal limits ahead of comparing himself with classmates.
Make no mistakes about the fact that Ray is very good at what he does. And that he has his priorities straight.
In fact, he epitomizes the notion of ‘student-athlete’.
Performing the quarterback duties to a level at which few before him have, Ray is enjoying an outstanding senior season for the Northern Lebanon football team. But in the same breath, he is also having a wonderful academic year in the class room.
On Friday night in Annville, Ray and the Vikings will take on Annville-Cleona for control of the Lancaster-Lebanon Section Three gridiron race. Both sides come in 6-1 overall and 3-0 in the circuit.
“Yeah, I’m pretty competitive in everything I do,” continued Ray. “I’m even competitive at work. This summer working for Jay’s Vending at Hersheypark, I was the number-three vendor. I’m really competitive in school, but it’s more about being competitive with myself.”
Currently, Ray is ranked third in Northern Lebanon High School’s Class of 2015, with a grade-point average of 4.7 out of a possible five. While Ray fares well in all of his classes, aspects of the health field, things like biology and chemistry, intrigue and challenge him the most.
“Football and school are similar in that the harder you work, the more you get out of them,” said Ray. “They’re different in that school is more mental and sports are more physical.
“Yeah, school has always come easy to me,” Ray continued. “It’s pretty natural for me. I really try to pay attention in class, so the subject material becomes ingrained in my brain.”
“I had Isaac in class as a sophomore for World History, and he had an average of 104,” said Northern Lebanon head coach Roy Wall. “I know what type of a student he is. He’s able to remember things, understand things and learn from his mistakes. He’s worked hard, and he’s worked with his teammates. I just have to tell him things one time. Once a play starts, it’s what he sees.”
For Ray, juggling his pursuit of excellence in academics and athletics is as much a matter of prioritizing and time management as it is hard work. Both also have a way of providing an escape from one other.
“I do most of my studying around six (p.m.),” said Ray, who also stars on the hardwoods for Northern Lebanon in the winter. “I have a lot of college courses this year, and it takes two or three hours a night. Right now it’s a chore because it’s so busy. With basketball, I’ll do it (homework) right after school and it won’t be as busy.
“This past couple of weeks, I’ve had a lot of projects I’ve had to do,” added Ray. “On Friday nights, it’s like getting away from it. It’s sort of a release. It’s a stress reliever.”
“Not just for him,” said Wall. “It’s very important for all of our students to take academics seriously. Isaac is a very mature player. Not all players understand things at an early age. It’s going to serve him very well in the future.”
The approach that Ray takes to running Wall’s complex, reactionary offense is also cerebral and mental – dare we say, scholarly – in nature. Success is based on learning, studying, reading and decision making.
“Decision-making is huge,” said Ray. “Pretty much every play I’ve got to make a decision. It’s a big responsibility. The offense is geared towards the decisions I make. If I make a wrong decision, the play isn’t going to go well.
“Compared to last year, I’m doing a lot better,” Ray added. “It shows in the stats. But I feel more confident. I feel like I’m ready to make plays.”
“He’s making a lot of good decisions, in both the option game and the passing game,” said Wall. “In his first two years at quarterback, he didn’t have play makers and the game was very fast for him. We’re running the same stuff. But we added an element of a short-passing game. That’s where he’s been exceptional, finding open receivers. He’s finding holes, or mismatches.”
“As a sophomore, the game was really fast,” said Ray. “Coming from the middle school team to starting varsity, it was different. It was difficult because I hadn’t done it before. It was tough. We were 2-8 and it wasn’t a fun season. But I’ve really matured as a leader because of that.
“I’d say ‘yes’ (that he’s currently playing the game at a very high level),” continued Ray. “And also I would have had one of these season last year, but we changed a lot in our offense. It’s geared towards my strengths and the receivers’ strengths. That’s helped too.”
“You have to remember, he never had a JV season,” said Wall of Ray. “He was throw into the fire. This is a style of offense he hadn’t run before.”
Ray is also taking a very cerebral approach to his academic and athletic lives beyond high school. It may be that certain circumstances will almost make his choices for him.
“I’m still not decided if I want to play basketball or football,” said Ray. “But I want to play one of those. It depends which school would cost less or where I would have the least debt when I came out. Either one, I wouldn’t have a regret. I have a love for both of them, equally. But I’m definitely not playing two. That would be too much.
“I had a good AAU basketball season this summer,” Ray added, “and at a tournament in Albany, four Division Three schools showed interest in me. I’m interested in physical therapy, so it’s pretty open to any school in the nation that has biology or chemistry.”
“He’s a good kid,” said Wall. “He comes from a stable household and his parents are very supportive. That’s rare in these days, and that helps. He’s got a great foundation and he’s going to go far in life.”
Even though he has an eye on the future, Ray never looks too far ahead. There are some things he’d still like to accomplish as a Viking.
“The playoffs would be really exciting, for this school, for this family, for this community,” said Ray. “To host a home playoff game, that would be great. It’s going to be hard. You have to be eighth in the (District Three Class AAA) power rankings to do it. But if we could win out, we’d have a chance.
Yeah, he pretty much has that one down.