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Getting an interview at the conclusion of a random Tuesday practice with Benjamin Bray proved to be more difficult than I had anticipated. The offensive lineman was at the top of everyone’s list to speak with given last weekends roller coaster game.
After the injury to starting right tackle Emmit Bohle, everyone wanted to hear Bray’s perspective on how the team was dealing with Bohle’s season-ending leg injury in ASU’s 27-15 loss to Oklahoma State.
“Every single one of us had tears in our eyes when he was carted off the field,” Bray said. “(He) was committed to us, he goes down, and that’s just tragic.”
Bray, a graduate student himself, secured a larger role in ASU’s line up last season and earned the team’s third-highest pass-blocking rating of the season. Additionally, he was not charged with allowing a single sack on his quarterback throughout the year.
The Mesa born, Red Mountain High School alumni was the lone player on the field at the end of media availability for Tuesday’s practice due to his high demand. When watching his interactions with the media, coaches and teammates there was no doubt that he is a respectful individual who is held in high regard by everyone around him.
It is pretty impressive for a backup offensive lineman to stick out the way that he does.
Bray stayed back to speak with me, opting to take the last mode of transportation from the field to the locker rooms solo just to do so. Instead of approaching him to talk about someone else, I wanted to ask about his own journey in dealing with injury. One that is much less known.
Bray’s quiet journey on the sideline
In January of 2022, Bray had to be sidelined for a hip surgery that came along with the wear and tear 0f being an offensive lineman – especially one since the third grade.
The daunting back-to-back-to-back seasons eventually caught up with him, resulting in a tear in his hip that would require surgery to repair.
Surprisingly, unlike other tears such as the ACL or achilles, a hip tear and the surgery that corresponds to it has a relatively quick recovery time.
Bray knew that he would have to miss 2022 Spring Ball, but had no choice if he wanted to continue his ASU football career. A sixth month recovery quickly shifted and Bray was up-and-running at the three month mark, ready for contact by June.
He gives all the praise to the surgeons, doctors and medical staff at ASU.
“It’s insane, they’re really good,” Bray said. “The therapy with (Mark) Kyger and the CSAC (Carson Student Athlete Center) building was nuts – in a good way! He cared for you, he pushed you hard and I was like ‘dang dude!’”
Bray’s determination and relentless effort to recover before to the start of the 2022 season paid off, allowing him to be fully laced up and ready to go for Fall kickoff.
Seemingly fully ready for action, there was still an aspect of Bray’s recovery that the medical and coaching staff could not detect in the training room. The journey back from injury involves not only physical rehabilitation, but also mental healing and recovery.
It is about sticking up for yourself
Merely appearing physically sound on the outside does not indicate that a player has regained the same level of performance they had before their injury.
An unconscious fear sense of worry when appears in athletes after they are injured and portrays itself when performing simple athletic gestures after recovery. At one point, that simple movement caused some of the worst pain imaginable and the brain does not forget that.
“Not everyone understands the situation,” Bray said. So, you really have to fight for yourself and how you’re feeling, but not cut corners and not milk it in a sense.”
Although his timeline working back into the line up sounded simple, Bray had to balance his participation in a way that did not overwork his limits after his invasive surgery.
“If you’re hurting, you’re hurting,” Bray said. “There’s a difference between injured and hurt and when you have surgery, you’re injured… you’ve got a slow recovery.”
Going into his redshirt Sophomore season, it was challenging for the lineman not to feel excluded from the rest of the team. This feeling of isolation is something that most athletes experience when they are sidelined due to injury.
The majority of their time that was once spent around teammates is taken away when injured to focus on rehabilitation and removes the player from their daily support systems. As Bray explains it, you get put in a bubble by yourself.
“The mentality is hard,” Bray said. “Some teams when you’re injured, they kind of ignore you. Not because they hate you, but just life goes on, you know, football goes on. You feel like you’re not a part of the team anymore.”
Although Bray struggled with these feelings at first, he found ways to overcome them and be a leader on the team – even if it had to be from the sidelines. He holds a unique mentality that most athletes who are plagued by injury are not lucky enough to find.
Bray refused to be sidelined in sorrow and did not choose the route of distancing himself from his brothers while he recovered. Instead, he took an early opportunity to jump into the role of being a leader.
“You just have to fight that entirely and be like, ‘Hey, I know I’m injured (but) I’m still part of this team, I still care for you guys,’” Bray said. “I (still) show up to the meetings, and (am) even more on time and more in-synced in other ways that you can contribute to the team.”
Turning adversity into opportunity
Just when it all started to look down for the redshirt Sophomore, he appeared in five games for the Sun Devils, earning his first career start on Nov. 19, 2022 against Oregon State. His debut turned heads when he allowed only one quarterback pressure on 40 pass-blocking plays.
Now, thriving in his position and being called upon in times of injury struggles for ASU, Bray has left his injury struggles in the past and has tunnel vision on his future.
“My goal is to be the best teammate I can,” Bray said. “That’s been my goal since day one and to be the best backup I can.”
For Bray, being a better teammate isn’t limited to simply supporting others in their success or encouraging the team during tough times. It also encompasses the constant drive to earn more playing time on the field, keeping his competitive spirit alive.
“If those aren’t your goals to begin with and you just kind of cruise through the year (thinking) ‘maybe next year I’ll play,’ you’re missing out,” Bray said. “You’re missing out on getting better in this moment…that’s always been my MO. (I’m) not the fastest, not the strongest, but I’ll be there when I need to.”
When I asked Bray about what his goals are for the end of the season, it was clear that he is living in the moment and taking it one game at a time.
However, he could not help but imagine how nice it would be to hold the Territorial Cup over his head after a defeat over Arizona in their last game of the season. With no post-season to look forward to, a defeat over the Wildcats would be the closest thing the team gets to a championship win.
“(It would be) a full, everything coming together moment,” Bray said. “That’s where I want to be, with a big smile on my face, maybe the fans will rush the field.”