BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@ledger-enquirer
AUBURN, Ala. – A brutal couple of weeks in late September – mostly self-inflicted – stained a promising sophomore season for Auburn wide receiver/punt returner Quan Bray.
“I learned a lot from the off-field issues,” a relaxed Bray said after Auburn’s first 2013 spring practice Wednesday, his first sit-down with reporters since his Sept. 27 arrest. “People like my teammates are depending on me. I just had to make better decisions. That really made me mature for the rest of the season.”
Coaches and teammates have long had his back, calling Bray a “great teammate” with a rough background. But five days after Auburn’s 12-10 loss to LSU, Bray was pulled over by University of West Georgia campus police hearing loud music from his car, and officers found the 19-year-old from LaGrange in possession of a limited driver’s license and a bottle of liquor.
While the three infractions were minor enough individually, they added up to spending the night in jail. Following the impending bye week, then-head coach Gene Chizik suspended Bray for an Oct. 6 game against Arkansas – all the while praising Bray for routinely serving as a positive role model after his mother was fatally shot in July 2011 and his father was charged with the murder.
“He’s been a great teammate, he’s been an honor roll student. I’m proud of the way in the last year and a half that he’s carried himself and the way he’s overcome a lot of adversity,” Chizik said Sept. 30. “Unfortunately, he made a bad decision this weekend, and what comes with that is consequences.”
Chizik reinstated Bray the day after the Arkansas game. Even though he never recovered his on-field production the rest of his season, Bray says he was welcomed back by his teammates immediately.
“They just told me I had to be stronger,” Bray said. “They didn’t knock me or anything like that. They picked me up and they brought me back into the family bond we always have. I really respect that.”
Especially since Bray had made a costly error in the LSU loss, fumbling a third-quarter fair catch attempt away to the visitors to set up LSU’s eventual game-winning field goal.
“I needed that, because I’ve never really muffed a punt in a big-time game like that anywhere,” Bray said. “It just made me go back to practice and catch extra punts. I’ve built my comfort back to doing that.”
Once returning to game action, Bray caught just three passes for 12 yards the rest of the season.
With top producers like Emory Blake and Onterio McCalebb gone to graduation, Bray knows his teammates are once again leaning on him – to produce at receiver, at returner, and maybe in other ways, too.
“That’s the plan – come to work every day and try to win my spot back,” Bray said. “I’m looking forward to playing a lot of different roles, just trying to be all over the field and learn different things for me to be a playmaker for the team.”
“He’s got the ability to do that,” head coach Gus Malzahn said. “He’s very flexible to play a lot of different positions, and he’s one of those guys that we’ll try at some different things. He’s got a good understanding of the offense so we can do that with him.”
In person, Bray seems comfortable with his fresh start, halfway through his college career. He hasn’t forgotten his mistake, but he’s fueled by it.
“It made me hungry,” Bray said. “Me getting in trouble didn’t make it any better. It was a bad thing at first, but … I just took that loss as a minor setback for a major comeback.”