By Jason Lewis
Sentinel Sports Editor
Catching up with Terrell Ray is as hard as it was 40+ years ago, when he was ripping up high school football fields here in Los Angeles, and playing in Rose Bowl games as a wide receiver for USC. He’s still on the run, and still at USC, coaching as well as doing administrative work.
Ray is in his early 60s but he looks like he can outrun most of the students on campus. Put a uniform and helmet on him and he’d blend in on the Coliseum sidelines. He may not be too far off his 4.5 40-yard dash time that he ran during his playing days. Hitting the track and weight room at 5:30 am has kept him in great shape.
Ray was born in Chicago, but moved to Memphis as a small child. His family moved to Los Angeles in the mid-1950s when Ray was in the 5th grade. His family moved to the Washington and La Brea area and Ray attended Holy Spirit Elementary School.
Ray’s first passion was baseball. He played Little League Baseball for the Golden State Mutual Life Insurance Co., which was the only Black owned insurance company. He became a great local athlete playing baseball, basketball, and football.
Ray may have gone to a private school, but most of his friends from his neighborhood went to Dorsey, so he always interacted with public school kids, and he routinely outplayed.
“We used to watch Terrell do amazing things in the streets,” said Curtis Lewis, who grew up in the same area as Ray. “Once he got the ball you couldn’t touch him. He was the guy that I knew I wanted to pattern my athletic career after. I wanted to do the things he could do. He had a following in the community. I always knew he’d be a success.”
Ray attended St. John Vianney High School, which later became known as Daniel Murphy. He was set to pursue a career in baseball, where many thought he would excel, but St. Vianney did not have a baseball team his final two years there, so he became a football star, even though he had not played organized football until he attended the school.
He played a little bit of everything. Quarterback, running back, wide receiver, and defensive back, while earning All-CIF honors. UCLA, Notre Dame, Alabama, Missouri, and USC recruited Ray.
Ray recalls how competitive it was in the inner city during that time period. The Southern League dominated in football, led by Dorsey, Manual Arts, Jefferson, LA High, and Fremont. Ray says that at that time it was hard to get a ticket to any of those games, as most games would sell out.
Track meets back then sold out just as much as football games did.
“There was an excitement in the neighborhood because you knew who was going to run and where,” Ray said.
The top Black athletes were all in the inner city.
“Back then there was not a lot of crossing the lines,” Ray said. “There weren’t very Blacks in White schools, or vice versa. It was pretty much segregated.”
Ray points out that not only have many Black athletes left the inner city, but also parents who supported the programs. Without the athletes and support system the inner city schools have fallen on hard times. Dorsey is still a power in football, and Crenshaw has come along, but Jefferson, Manual Arts, LA High and Fremont are pretty much after thoughts.
Today the top programs are in the valley and Orange County because many blacks have moved away from the inner city, and the parents who will support a program are also gone.
When it was time to choose a college Ray was on the verge of going to UCLA, but coach John McKay sold his parents on the education that he would receive, and he would be able to continue with a private school, which he had been attending since moving to Los Angeles.
Ray played in three Rose Bowl games and won a national title at USC. He sees a lot of similarities between McKay’s teams and Pete Carroll teams. Competition is the main things.
“There was a lot of competition when I played here,” Ray said. “Our practices were harder than a lot of the games that we played. It’s basically the same today. Coach Carroll has brought back that competition aspect that was lacking before he got here. If the person that is in front is not doing the job then the person in back is going to take over that position. Once you get a position you can’t rest on it because there is somebody right behind you waiting for that position. It keeps you looking over your shoulder and it makes for improvement.”
Ray made it to the NFL, where he played for the Falcons, Packers, and Redskins. It looked like he had finally gotten his shot with legendary head coach Vince Lombardi, who thought Ray could become a star, but Lombardi’s unexpected passing and a coaching change with the Redskins pretty much ended Ray’s chance.
Ray landed on his feet just fine after his NFL career. His next career, which lasted for 25 years, was as a teacher, football, and track coach at various Los Angeles schools, where he helped numerous students reach college and some to the professional sports careers.
Ray taught and coached at Crenshaw, Fremont, Fairfax, Washington Prep, and a number of other schools.
“I considered myself a LA Unified person,” Ray said. “Where ever I was needed, that’s where I would go.”
Ray believes that parents and other adults need to play a major role in children’s education.
“We defiantly need to set aside time with children,” Ray said. “They’re going to want to play and fool around. As adults we have to set aside hours to help them with their homework. If we do that we’ll have a better community and better citizens.”
Ray moved on from the LAUSD, and was on the coaching staff of the New York Giants before landing a job at USC, where he has received another national champion ring.
Ray has been a part of Los Angeles sports history for over 40 years, and he’s not ready to slow down yet. He says that he has a number of years left to follow his passions.
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