When Auburn Tigers wide receiver Quan Bray takes off his shoulder pads and undershirt you will find words that will be forever engraved in his heart and skin.
A tattoo of a smiling, happy, lively woman he once called mom, Tonya “Cuddy” Bray.
Growing up in LaGrange, GA, Bray’s mother, Tonya, was always his biggest fan. Whichever sport, wherever and whenever his mom was always there at his games cheering loud from the bleachers.
Bray was a standout at Troup County High School in LaGrange, ranked as one of the best athletes in the nation and selected to play in the 2011 Under Armour All-American game after his senior season.
In February 2011, Bray signed with the Auburn Tigers, the same program that his cousin, Jayson Bray, starred at as a defensive back in the early 1990s.
Tonya was the kind of mother who wanted the best for her oldest son. Playing major college football, at Auburn, on scholarship and earning his undergraduate degree was something she could only of dreamt about for her seventeen-year old son.
But she never saw her child chase that dream.
On July 3, 2011, Bray’s life would be forever changed. On that day, Bray got a call that Jefferey Jones, his father, shot and killed his mom as she was fleeing from him in her car. Jones later plead guilty to murder and aggravated assault and was sentenced to life without parole.
This was a devastating loss to a highly-coveted young man who was a month away from reporting to the Auburn campus as a freshman.
When most people would’ve made excuses to quit, Bray took the tragedy with a huge heart and tried to be strong for his younger brother, Jymere, and kept going. He gained immediate playing time as a slot receiver and punt returner, with a 62-yard punt return against Virginia in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. He also excelled in the classroom posting a 3.5 GPA his first semester at Auburn.
What became a great start to his Auburn career took a bump in the road last season.
Auburn struggled implementing a pro-style offensive approach under current Virginia Tech offensive coordinator, Scot Loeffler going 3-9, in one of the worst season’s in school history. During this devastating season, Bray was arrested for playing his music too loud and was suspended for the Arkansas game. Bray understood that not only had he let his team and younger brother down, he also let down his biggest fan in the world that day.
The arrest got his mind back to not just doing the best for himself, but for his brother and teammates around him this season. But most of all to play for his mother’s legacy.
This fall, Bray has emerged as a team leader for new head coach, Gus Malzahn‘s spread offense. Auburn has to replace last season’s leading receiver, Emory Blake. Bray is the leading receiver coming into his junior season, with 14 catches for 94 yards in 2012.
The Tigers will be counting on the 5-foot-10 186-pound do-it-all athlete to breakout and stay healthy as a down field target for Nick Wallace.
Although there’s no doubt Quan Bray can get up from a nasty hit this season, because he understands that nothing hits harder than life.