Ghost Busted

By Johnny Ginter on February 28, 2012 at 2:00p
Did nooott think I would be using this again

The Ray Small situation is sad.

It really is. Most of us are born with certain gifts or natural abilities to do certain things well, but most of the time it's something completely useless like tying a cherry stem into a knot in your mouth or making cool train noises with your hands or developing a perfect internal clock that you'll never shut up about ever.

Ray Small, on the other hand, won the genetic lottery and was blessed with athletic abilities that could've potentially netted him millions of dollars over the course of his football playing career. He attended one of the most high profile football programs in the country, was led by one of the best football head coaches of the last 25 years, and played in a system where all he'd really need to do to realistically get a shot at playing time is to run really fast and not be a complete jackass.

Unfortunately for Ray Small, that last little stipulation proved to be the hardest to pull off. As a result he found himself repeatedly in Jim Tressel's bad graces, emerging every Spring Game like some kind of bewildered groundhog that would then see its shadow, fail a drug test (or miss a team meeting or skip classes or whatever), and then run back from whatever hole from whence he came.

That alone isn't sad. It's dumb, and gave us probably my all time favorite nickname for an Ohio State football player, but it isn't sad. What also isn't sad is the sequence of events that took place in late 2009 and beyond, from when college senior Ray Small was about to participate in his final regular season game as an Ohio State Buckeye as a captain elected by his teammates to now, a day after 24 year old Ray Small was arrested for posession of narcotics by way of pills, herion, and weed.

In 2009 much had been written about Ray Small's "redemption," partly because he had managed to somehow keep himself from Tressel's doghouse (likely through some combination of voodoo and boxed wine), and also partly because everyone loves a redemption story. The Brothers Karamazov, Les Miserables, Mean Girls; we're drawn to these stories because something in us badly wants to see people overcome their baser natures and do good, and I think it's something that Jim Tressel believes in strongly.

And it was perfectly set up, too! Ray Small, after years of inconsistency and disappointment, shows up ready to play the week before the Michigan game. He's elected to be one of four team captains by his peers, proceeds to catch 15 passes for 175 yards (including the game winning touchdown with .5 seconds left), becomes a first round draft pick, plays 8 mediocre-to-good seasons in the NFL, retires, gains 250 pounds, starts 3 semi-successful big and tall leather jacket stores, and dies happily in his sleep of diabetic shock at the age of 67.

But Ray Small didn't do any of those things. He didn't even have a good Michigan game in 2009, catching no passes and returning a total of four kicks, only one of which was significant in any way. Shortly after, he managed to get himself suspended for the Rose Bowl. And then, like he had so many times after various spring games throughout his career, he disappeared.

...for 18 months, when he returned to render his own personal verdict on the NCAA violation situation at Ohio State. In his interview with the Lantern, Small made several claims; that he sold memorabilia, that "everybody was doing it," that players were getting favorable deals on cars. It angered his former teammates, who felt that he had broken a bond with them, but the person he had to have hurt the most was Tressel.

In the second part of his terrific two part essay for Grantland, Maurice Clarett spelled out exactly what Jim Tressel tried to do for him as a freshman.

Party all the time

The first person to try to pull the reins and give me some advice on how to handle my success was Coach Tress. He called me into his office the following Monday and laid out 13 issues that I would face throughout the year, and lord knows that was my sign to avoid all the pitfalls I fell inside. His topics ranged from leadership to teamwork to friends to scheduling time to women, etc., etc., etc.

I don't think this was unusual. Hell, Tressel wrote an entire book about these concepts, and I'm sure over the course of his career Ray Small found himself at the receiving end of multiple lectures on those subjects. But for Clarett and Small, it didn't seem to matter. Neither listened. Ray Small the star was more important than Ray Small the competent human being, and in the end, that's what has led to the situation that he currently finds himself in.

As a high school teacher, situations like these are the hardest for me to internalize. I know exactly the angst that Jim Tressel must have felt after having bent over backward for this kid time and time again, only to have it thrown it back in his face. And I know the anxiety he must still feel as he watches Small's drama unfold, helpless to help his former player out.

Luckily Clarett was able to turn his life around. His prison blog was both both weird and enlightening, and it signaled a person who was ready to change who they were fundamentally. Now, years away from his mistakes, Clarett is a happier and more content person than he was when he was chasing his own image, and like the man says:

Everyone wishes things would have played out differently, but they didn't, and I can live with that. I'm back to being friends with all of my old teammates and coaches, and I'm back to being a responsible father.

I'll graduate in due time, and I'll continue to read, write, speak publicly, and be a positive force in any community I reside in. Stay tuned.

That's something Ray Small can learn from and change from, and I know that the person who wants this to happen more than anyone is his former college football coach. Because that's what's actually sad about all of this. Not that Ray Small wasted his potential, or that he ended up turning on his former teammates (although that is incredibly irritating). It's that someone repeatedly gave him a chance to do the right thing, and he ignored those chances right up to his final day as a Buckeye.

Ray Small had the opportunity not just to become a great football player, but to be a good person. He still can be, but he needs to start making the choices Clarett did at this point in his life and understand that he is literally and figuratively a small man; not a star or a celebrity, but a small man caught in huge trouble that he must now face punishment for.

Before the USC game in 2009, Ray Small had this to say to Adam Rittenberg at ESPN, in reference to the differences between USC and Ohio State: "Here at Ohio State, they teach you to be a better man."

Well, they tried to, anyway.


Comments Show All Comments

Baroclinicity's picture

Nice read.  Always sad to see a Buckeye hit rock bottom.  Let's hope this is rock bottom for Small.

When you're holding a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

Ramzy Nasrallah's picture

Ray Small was a primary accomplice in the "poisoning" of Duron Carter. He was a one-man wrong crowd.

AltaBuck's picture

What blows me away is.....if Ray called Tressel today and asked for help, Jim would be there for him. He never gives up on those people he takes under his wing and to teach.

I am Groot - Groot

rdubs's picture

I'd be willing to bet that he doesn't even need to call Tressel, I wouldn't be surprised if Tressel has or will reach out to him very soon.

JigNSwig15's picture

According to Rivals100 from 2006, Ray Small was their #88 ranked overall prospect. The caption underneath his name...

The wiry Small will have his share of moments in C-Bus.

...who knew it would be for all the wrong reasons.

Rooster Buckburn's picture

I'm afraid things aren't going to end well for Mr. Small

Matt's picture


Joe Beale's picture

That's one of those books that's on my short list of must-reads if I can ever get around to it. If you ever get finished reading it, let me know how long it took you.

rkylet83's picture

Sorry, but I can't remember the funny nickname someone remind me!

BrewstersMillions's picture

•The Ghost Buckeye wide receiver Ray Small, for his special ability to generate much hype and then disappear.

Whosisbrew's picture

I'm sure Tressel cared about him and wanted to see him get past his childish issues, but you have to think that his talent was the only thing keeping him on that team. Tressel probably figured he'd win him a game sooner or later. I guess that punt return against Ohio was his one, truly shining moment. And maybe that kickoff return against Wisconsin. That's about all I can positively remember Ray Small for.

Alex's picture

He had a return vs PSU that was pretty big...I think in Happy Valley

btalbert25's picture

I'm sorry if my opinion is not going to be well accepted, but I don't even think of Small as a Buckeye.  To be a Buckeye you have to give some of yourself to the team.  Sure he practiced, but he was always lazy on the field(when he found his way out there) he never put forth any effort in the classroom either.  He didn't appreciate the 5 of 6 "second chances" Tressel gave him either.  The guy was a bad seed from day 1.

Moe C probably caused this team more grief than any one, I'd say even TP.  He was here only a year.  He nearly go Ohio State in trouble for the things he said about the program after his one season was over, and he basically tried to sell out his coach and team mates for his own personal gain.  BUT the guy gave his heart and soul to this team on the field, and was never bad in the classroom either.  There was no doubt that dude left everything on the field every game. 

TP, the newest player that gets a lot of hate and venom cast his way, still loved Ohio State.  He was another guy who worked his ass off and played extremely hard.  He was never in trouble in the class room either, and though he made bad decisions, he always said how much he loved Ohio State, the fans, and his team mates.  No doubt, the kid loves the school, and he gave something positive to the program.  He'll be underappreciated because of the Tat Gate stuff, and some dumb comments he made on Twitter, but in the end the guy was all Buckeye.

What did Small ever do?  Where did he ever give of himself to the Buckeyes?  He just wanted to take take take.  I don't think his story is sad at all.  I think he's an idiot who did nothing positive for this program, that would never be someone Buckeye nation would embrace or love, because he's never loved the Buckeyes.

Aside from all that, his situation is his own fault and he'll never own up to it.  Every mistake he's made, small or large, was someone else's fault.  Coach Tressel is the reason he failed, not the fact that he didn't go to class, he didn't work hard in practice, and he liked the chronic.  Now instead of working hard and getting a job he's going to be a drug dealer.  I'm sure this isn't his fault either.  I don't feel sorry for him, and I don't think it's sad.  He was a young man who was given a lot of opportunity because he could run fast and catch footballs.  He could've parlayed that into a degree and worked hard enough to get himself into the NFL and either way could make a career for himself.

This is a long post and I'm rambling, but I refuse to feel bad for this clown.  There are a lot of people out there who would kill to have the opportunity he had.  People who would've used it to actually become a productive citizen.  That's the sad part of it.  Sad that opportunity gets wasted on fools like Small. 

btalbert25's picture

Also, I'd like to say also, that I'm all for 2nd chances when they are warranted.  I just don't think Small ever did anything to deserve all his 2nd chances he's received.  He also doesn't have the mental makeup to come back and have a redemption story like Moe C did.  I guess I'm tired of athletes screwing up then making a comeback and everyone feeling all warm and fuzzy about it.  I commend Clarrett and respect him for what he's been able to do with his life.  In hindsight that is a truly inspirational story and he'll be a great mentor to a lot of people and quite an ambassador to Ohio State. 

It's like now if you don't root for guys to turn it around or you aren't fans of guys like Ray Lewis, Vick, or Tiger Woods something is wrong with you.  I guess like Johnny said, we love a come back story, but I'd rather save my energy for comebacks like Tyler Moeller, or Robby Hummel. 

OSUNeedles's picture

I agree and disagree... I am with you on the fact that I get sick of watching the incredibly talented not be able to overcome their egos, or stupidity, or whatever you want to call it. They have opportunities that I couldn't fathom and skills that I am envious of to this day... However, I root for any person on this planet to become a better person. Yesterdays shootings have re-reminded me of the fact that our country is lacking something... Sitting in a restaurant last week and seeing someone get punched out of his chair and kicked in the head because he was on a date with someone else's "baby momma" while my 6 year old asked me what was going on also brought the stupidity of the world a little too close. I grew up in a middle class neighborhood and don't pretend to know the crap that others have to deal with, but the thing that I do know is that if people have the ability to change themselves for the better then I will always be rooting for them... Even if they're from Michigan. This was one of my favorite things about Tressel... He strived to change people (often times not from my middle class neighborhood) for the better and improve their lives as well as the lives of those around them. Here's hoping that a lazy, spoiled, self-centered kid can make a turn around in his life whether he is a Buckeye or not.

btalbert25's picture

I'm not rooting against him to turn his life around, I'm just saying he's never shown any indication that he is interested in being a productive student, football player and now citizen.  If he does, good for him.  Quite honestly, I have no idea what his background or upbringing is, but to me it's not a class thing anyway. It's a pull your head out of your rear end thing.  I think as long as their have been human beings there have been people who were motivated, and devoted themselves to making their life better, and there were people who screwed around and pissed away their lives.  I think that's been at any time, in any place, throughout history.  

I hope for his sake he turns it around, can't say I'm going to be shocked if he doesn't or that I feel sorry for him because of the mess he's put himself in. 

BuckPirate1981's picture

One of the things that pains me most about situations like this is the national media (or the UM fans) then turning it around into a failing of Coach Tress. Johnny, as a HS teacher you know there's some kids you can't reach, for all that you might try to do. My mom (a HS teacher herself) often calls with frustrations about just these types of kids. One rationale I remember early on as Tressel's thought process in Tatgate was that of a teacher. My mom has had kids that if she sent them to the office, as per the rules, they would have gotten that one last out of school suspension fo a few more days that would have meant they were over the number of days they could make up to graduate (or pass the year). So rather than do that, she had them scrape gum off from under desks and wash chalkboards, vacuum the classroom, etc for a week. If ESPN cared about HS education and she taught at OSU, she would likely be the labled the Anti-Christ. Tressel probably thought something along the same lines - better he punish and handle the situation then pass it along and those kids get the shaft and learn nothing from it. Unfortunately, that's what ended up happening anyways, and he lost his job. That is, of course, giving him the benefit of the doubt in that situation. The guy messed up, and even if he might have been thrown under the bus a bit, end of the day, he did something he shouldn't have and paid for it. 

In the case of Small and others like him, he did the same thing time and again. Truth be told, what did Small ever contribute, positive, to the FB team? For all the talk about Tress putting up with TP because he was the star, he did it on more than one occasion with kids that weren't nearly as valuable. This as opposed to Jimmy Johnson who would openly torment some players giving much better treatment to others. One quote I remember was that if a special team's scrub was sleeping in a team meeting, that guy was gone. If Emmitt Smith was caught asleep, he'd get Smith a pillow. At the college level, Bowden would often say the same thing. Curfew violation for Sebastian Janikowski? Bowden had the "Warsaw Rule":

Bowden joked that because Janikowski is from Poland, he is subject to a different code of conduct.

Being from Poland, having won the Groza award, same difference. He was another of the coaching fraternity that would have maybe helped along a kid like TP, but Small would have been gone a long time ago. Many, many coaches wouldn't have given Small nearly as many chances, especially after that potential never truly materialized. Tressel had a soft spot for these kids, and unfortunately in some cases it didn't work out. Or did they? In Clarett's case, it's finally sinking in. It's a shame it is going to take prison to do the same with Small, but hopefully he will be come a positive force after all of this as well. Although after all those chances, I can't imagine he has too many left. 

btalbert25's picture

Eh, Small was always talked about like he was going to be the next great WR at Ohio State.  If regular guys could see is potential don't you think Tressel could too?  I think he was kept around simply for the fact that he had a lot of talent. 

BuckPirate1981's picture

Certainly a possibility, but how many great recruits did you see come in and subsequently let go while Small was kept on? Absolutely Small had the talent. But at some point, that talent never showed up. He would hurt the team on the field (other than the rare glimpse of that special talent), and off of it as well. Sure, Tressel probably saw he could be a good football player. But I think to him, that was secondary to making the kid a good man first. 

DJ Byrnes's picture

There aren't poor students, only poor teachers.

Californian by birth, Marionaire by the Grace of President Warren G. Harding.

btalbert25's picture

It could be that way too.  I think as a fan base we give Tressel a little too much credit.  Certainly, on a team of over 100 kids, there are probably more than a couple who come from troubled backgrounds.  Do I think Tressel had the time or ability to really get to know every kid and take them under his wing to try and make them better men?  Eh, I don't know, I think probably not.  Don't get me wrong, I'm sure there were things he did, that were team activities that absolutely were geared toward making his kids better people.  Do I think that he always gave guys many chances so they would be come better men?  I just don't know.  It seems like most guys who got extra chances or benefit of the doubt also happened to be very talented players. 

I could be off base, I just haven't heard enough about a guy way down the bench who screwed up a lot and kept getting chances for redemption.  It's not a knock on Tressel.  In fact, it may be a knock on us as a fan base.  We seem to look at Tressel as a saint who even when he did wrong was doing so for noble causes, instead of looking at him as a football coach and human. 

Johnny Ginter's picture

last semester i taught 116 kids, only saw the majority of them one hour a day, and i feel that i got to know most of them fairly well (or at least, well enough to know their issues).

my point with this is that tress also has a master's in education, and i think he absolutely takes the same attitude that i do; that no matter how low on the totem pole a kid is, because their YOUR KID, you take ownership of their ups and downs and are invested in their success or failure as human beings, at least to an extent. so yeah, i do think tressel, on some level, tried to connect with each of his players in that manner. the yao smiths and krenzels maybe you don't have to lean on as hard, but that doesn't mean you still dont try and get the message across

btalbert25's picture

I just think it's possible that Tressel looked at things like a football coach at times and not always walked around like he was some sort of modern day Christ that people make him out to be all the time, and that may sound dramatic, but some of the comments about the guy, especially the last year or so have come off that way.  I'm sure he looks after players and has a connection with them all, I just also thing that a talented guy like Small could be given extra chances simply because he was really talented.  I don't know of other guys who were given so many chances that were not potential stars because well we didn't hear about guys that were in the doghouse who weren't very talented.  It was only news when someone like small did something stupid because he was talented. 

bukyze's picture

 Most of us are born with certain gifts or natural abilities to do certain things well, but most of the time it's something completely useless like tying a cherry stem into a knot in your mouth or making cool train noises with your hands or developing a perfect internal clock that you'll never shut up about ever.


I can burp the alphabet.  Usually after I've had a lot of beer.

buckeye76BHop's picture

I personally am glad this happened to Small.  I do believe there's a saying for this particular situation...KARMA'S A B@#CH RAY!  May be kicking the University (that you were once a part of) while it was down had alittle to do with this.  As for the stuff I've read about Tressell being the reason for his failures...WOW!  All I can say about that, besides...we all make "OUR" own decisions in life.  Ray's failures are his own and he's owning them very well at this point in juncture.  Tressell didn't play him as much because of his "off the field" issues...seems like no matter who the teacher was...this guy was going fail no matter what!  

"There's nothing that cleanses your soul like getting the hell kicked out of you."

"I love football. I think it is most wonderful game in world and I despise to lose."

Woody Hayes 1913 - 1987 

BuckeyeSki's picture

Thanks alot Ghost, now all of my DJK jokes have an immediate counter response

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