JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Ray Drew sees his football career in metaphors. So when he entered this season, burned by two years of disappointment, not having reached the goals of others or himself, he adopted a new outlook.
He would be like a leaf in the wind.
“Go wherever it blows you,” Drew said.
The danger before this season was Drew’s football career would be dust in the wind. A five-star defensive end recruit out of high school, he had a grand total of a half-sack. He had struggled to earn playing time, and the bust talk was building.
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Then this season began, and something happened. He got playing time. He got sacks. The bust talk went away.
The leaf blew in the right direction.
“I got a good air current,” Drew said, smiling. “It took me to a good place.”
Drew is one of the most reflective, inward-looking athletes you will find. It befits someone who was an ordained minister at 17, which Drew was. Head coach Mark Richt calls him “The Pastor of Pain.”
Another nickname came his way this year, thanks to one of Drew’s metaphors. Speaking in September, right before his season took off, Drew compared his career to a crock pot, “We’re living in a microwave era. We want it quick; we want it now. But some of the best food comes out of the crock pot. It has to sit and melt for a while. I guess you could say I’ve been on the crock pot plan. It hasn’t been as quick as a lot of people would’ve liked. It hasn’t been as quick as I would’ve liked it. But I believe something good is gonna come out of the crock pot.”
The metaphor proved as prescient as it was funny. Drew has six sacks this season, along with eight tackles for loss and 12 quarterback hurries. He started six games and played extensively in the other six.
In short, he has been one of the bright stories for an otherwise dreary defense.
“It’s a good example of how you’ve just gotta keep working and developing,” defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said. “A guy like Ray, it kind of clicked for him, and it went on.”
His first two years, Drew always set personal goals for that season. They didn’t come through, thanks mostly to the lack of playing time. And playing time was one of the goals. It was deflating, Drew admits.
So this year he set no expectations.
“I kind of took this year as a leaf in the wind type year,” he said. “If you’re blessed enough to have 20 sacks at the end of the year, so be it. If you only get one, so be it. It’s just a matter of now, at this point in the season, finishing up strong and bringing the new year in right and seeing what I can improve on to help better myself for the next season.”
To that end, Drew sent his name to the NFL draft advisory committee, curious what he would hear back. He fully expects to be back at Georgia next season, unless he hears he would be a first- or second-round pick, in which case he’d consider the jump.
He doesn’t expect to hear that. No matter. The important thing for Drew is having accomplished enough that it was worth sending his name in.
So what happened this year? Drew credits some of it to technical improvements -- his speed off the snap was better, and his hand placement on blockers. Some of it was not putting pressure on himself.
But otherwise, it’s mostly about being there on the field.
“Just timing, just experience. Getting a chance to go in and showcase,” Drew said. “Looking back, since I’ve been here, I knew I had the ability to be a good player. I didn’t doubt myself as a player. I just kind of, I guess, got into a funk, I guess you could say.”
He stopped a moment to think before adding, “Being a five-star recruit, you could say coming in and sitting on the sideline, it’s a big jump, it’s a big difference, and anyone would want to be on the field instead of the sideline. But I kind of threw that out the window and took it as it came.”
Just like a leaf in the wind.