BY RYAN BLACK | firstname.lastname@example.org
AUBURN, Ala. — It’s not fun being ignored.
But Quan Bray is well-aware why people have little regard for he and his fellow receivers heading into the fall. How highly are people supposed to think of a team coming off a 3-9 season, after all? Throw in the fact the Tigers lost Emory Blake and Philip Lutzenkirchen, their top two options in the passing game last year, and the minimal buzz surrounding the wideouts is to be expected.
Bray wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I feel real good,” he said. “I think a lot of people are sleeping on us and that’s what we need.”
Bray devoted much of his time this summer to develop his leadership skills. Along with fellow receivers Trovon Reed and Sammie Coates, Bray believes there is a core group the rest of the unit can look to for advice.
“It’s time for us to step up and be the guys everyone expects us to be,” he said.
Newcomers Marcus Davis, Tony Stevens and Dominic Walker have infused the receiving corps with a burst of energy as well.
“They came in and are real hungry right now,” he said. “Playing behind guys like T-Reed and Sammie and knowing we’re ready to eat, I think they’re real competitive.”
For any problems the new wideouts might have with the offensive playbook, they have a veteran in Bray as familiar with Auburn coach Gus Malzahn’s hurry-up, no-huddle offense as any player on the Tigers’ roster.
“We can let (the young receivers) know what’s coming so when it hits them it won’t be a surprise,” he said. “It’s definitely a big asset to help us to do the right things for them.”
Bray certainly feels more at home with Malzahn’s scheme than the one he was in last year. He made no bones about feeling out of place in offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler’s pro-style attack, noting that when he was originally recruited to play for the Tigers, it was in a high-octane spread offense.
“We had to adjust to things (to Loeffler’s offense),” he said. “We did in some sense, but it didn’t show off. For (Malzahn) to come back with the spread offense and the players that we have, it’s the right fit.”
The sense that things have been recalibrated and are as they should be was embodied during the Tigers’ summer workouts. Bray said there was a stark difference between this summer and the year before. Everything moved “a lot faster,” not a surprising bit of information given Malzahn’s up-tempo tendencies. But the easiest way to differentiate between this summer and last was to simply look at attendance.
For one reason or another, players didn’t put forth more than the bare minimum during last summer’s workouts.
“The difference in ordinary and extraordinary is ‘extra,’ right? I don’t think a lot of guys bought in,” Bray said. “We’ve bought in to what Malzahn is doing. And definitely (strength and conditioning) Coach (Ryan) Russell. He’s definitely motivating a lot of guys to be the best they can be.”
Russell’s approach with Bray had two emphases. First, Bray worked on his strength as part of a strict weight-lifting regimen. Secondly, he wanted to get quicker, perfecting his footwork through ladder drills.
In those endeavors, Russell succeeded, as Bray believes he’s in the best shape of his career. And he’ll need to be, as the junior expects to once again be back fielding punts in addition to his pass-catching responsibilities. He might even add some kick return duties on top of that.
“I’m trying to be the all-purpose back of the year,” he said.
But above all else, Bray wants to force people to recognize him as a formidable threat at receiver, and for that to extend to the rest of the unit. People haven’t afforded the Tigers that respect on reputation alone. It’s something that will have to be earned this fall.
All that’s needed is for one of them to set it in motion.
“Us as receivers, we’re like brothers,” Bray said. “This really is a brotherhood. In that room, if one of us is working, all of us are working. If one of us is catching balls, we’re all watching balls. We stick together.”