Land of 10 has embarked on a series of “Next Generation” articles, a project that aims to bring our readers greater insight into the Class of 2018 signees. Land of 10 Ohio State reporters Austin Ward and Ryan Ginn are visiting the Ohio State incoming freshman class to show you more than 40-yard dash times and recruiting rankings. Throughout the year leading up to their debuts, Land of 10 will introduce the Ohio State fan base to the newest Buckeyes. Today we feature tackle Max Wray.
FRANKLIN, Tenn. — Max Wray’s journey to Ohio State began in the kitchen.
Though he arrived in Columbus in January measuring 6-foot-7 and 290 pounds, Wray entered high school looking more like he belonged on the hardwood instead of the gridiron. His family genes were tailor-made for football – his dad Sam is 6-7 and his mom Stacy is 5-11 – but it was Max’s younger brother Jake who fit the bill. A high school sophomore, Jake stands 6-5, 290, and is a 4-star tackle in the 247Sports composite rankings for the Class of 2020. Unlike Max, he looked like a lineman from his first breath.
“When Jake was born and I saw him for the first time, I said, ‘Why do you already look like a football player?’ ” Stacy said with a laugh. “Max had to grow into it.”
In addition to being naturally thin, it didn’t help that Max wasn’t a big eater. When a growth spurt turned him into a 6-5 high school freshman, he ended up with cartoon character proportions.
“Max grew 11 inches in middle school, and he just had a lollipop head with big bones,” Stacy said. “I swear every time I turned around, he was a little taller, and a little taller and then all of a sudden he is — he got really intentional at the end of about January his freshman year going, ‘I need to gain weight.’ My joke was like, ‘Dude, hang with me. I know what to do.’
Stacy hatched a plan, and Max agreed to eat whatever was put in front of him. Each night, Stacy would cook dinner and then make an additional egg dish in a lasagna pan for Max to eat at 9 p.m. He’d eat as much as he could and then go to sleep. By the time summer came around, he’d reached his target weight of 245 pounds. That growth helped propel him to a starting spot on the offensive line as a sophomore at Franklin High School, and his recruitment began to take off.
His first scholarship offer came Oct. 28 during his sophomore season from the hometown Vanderbilt Commodores. LSU followed the same day — then-LSU general manager Austin Thomas is a Tennessee native who had hoped to be Wray’s first offer — and his recruitment was off and running.
Over the next two years, Wray’s determination and vision for himself in the weight room, on the field and in the classroom developed him into one of the nation’s best offensive linemen and put him in position to one day become a star at one of the nation’s best football programs.
Wray isn’t shy about giving his thoughts on the recruiting process.
“I hated it,” he said. “I’m more of a football player than I am a showman.”
Dealing with it was a necessary evil, though, and Wray dedicated himself not only to finding the best school, but also putting himself in position to be as successful as possible.
In addition to grinding through late-night meals to pack on necessary pounds, he put in extra work in the classroom so he could graduate in December of his senior year and enroll early for college. Having earned a 27 on his ACT (87th percentile) as a sophomore, Wray began to chart his path to an early graduation.
He announced his plan to his parents in February of his sophomore year, pointing out that he could alter his schedule for his junior year and take summer classes to earn enough credits to get his diploma a semester early. His choice caught his parents off guard, but his commitment to the process came as no surprise. Sam and Stacy made him wait two weeks so he didn’t make a rash decision, but by that point, he’d only become more certain it was the correct move.
“He’d been a recruit for like three and a half months, and I was like, ‘What are you talking about?’ He said, ‘Yeah, I’ll just skip all my electives, and I’ll take more core classes next year.’ I was thinking, what about prom? What about all that stuff? He looked at me and said, ‘I don’t really care about that stuff. I want to get wherever I’m going.’ He just wants to work.”
For such a meticulous planner, Wray’s commitment to Ohio State came out of nowhere. After he called off his year-long commitment to Georgia in March 2017, the Wray family went hunting for a new school. Over the next month, they visited Alabama, Clemson, LSU, Texas and Tennessee, which was more than enough stops for Max.
However, Ohio State and coach Urban Meyer were relentless in their recruitment once Wray backed off his Georgia pledge. Sam felt they should take one more trip on April 8 to see what Ohio State had to offer. That proved to be a tough sell to the rest of the family.
“I thought they were going to kill me,” Sam said.
As soon as the Wrays got to Columbus, everything changed. Ohio State resonated with Wray in a way that no other program had. He loved the coaches and spent the weekend bonding with the Buckeyes’ offensive linemen. Having seen the other schools and watched Max on those visits, his parents knew this one was special.
“He knew what he was looking for, and it was like everything came together when we were at Ohio State,” Stacy said. “He was sitting in a meeting with [offensive line coach Greg Studrawa], and I looked at Sam and said, ‘He’s going to commit to Ohio State.’ We’d been on campus for an hour and a half. It was just different, and that was the x-factor for Max. It was just the school for him.”
Wray’s rise as a top football prospect was impressive. His first year playing tackle as a sophomore propelled him into becoming one of the nation’s top offensive linemen. Relentlessly working to improve, he earned a spot in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl and finished as the No. 9 tackle in the 247Sports composite rankings for the Class of 2018.
“I really do believe he’s a very polished, talented offensive lineman,” Franklin coach Donnie Webb told Land of 10 in May 2017. “He still has to continue to work and improve his football game. But I think his body is prototypical for an offensive tackle at the next level. I really believe if he continues to work hard that the sky is the limit.”
A great relationship with the Franklin coaching staff — in that May interview Webb called Wray “a great kid” he loved having as a student and football player — took a sudden turn in 2017 when the Wray brothers left the team in October over safety concerns.
At the time, the family issued the following statement: “This situation arose because we, as a family, became increasingly concerned that the coaching staff has created an environment in which players’ health and safety is not the first priority. We expressed to the school administration our concern that the culture was creating a perverse incentive for players to conceal injuries, including in particular concussions.”
Neither the Wrays nor Webb spoke about the incident, but Jake is now enrolled at Marietta (Ga.) High School, a talent-rich program in the Atlanta suburbs.
Although he missed the final half of his senior season, Wray’s development as a lineman continued unabated thanks to a trainer he’d started working with a month before leaving the team. On his official visit for the Oklahoma game, Wray was accompanied by his family and Buck Fitzgerald, the founder of the National Playmakers Academy organization that Max trained with. After seeing an Ohio State game up close, Fitzgerald told the Wrays he had a new trainer in mind to help get Max ready for college.
“I got a text on the way back from that game,” Adrian Steele said. “It said, ‘I need you to train Max Wray.’ So I said, all right, let’s get this done. I met both [Wray brothers] and then we took off from there, and like Max would come after football practice. You can’t get most guys to do nothing after football practice. Max was like, ‘Hey, I’m ready.’ ”
Those four-to-five workout sessions per week continued after Wray left the football team. Steele said Wray is still scratching the surface of what he can become, but the gains over his final months of high school were immense. His proficiency on a bosu ball, a half sphere designed to measure and enhance flexibility and balance, offered a glimpse of Wray’s enormous potential.
“He’s grown so much, but he’s still got so much more growth potential,” Steele said. “Most guys that are 300 pounds, they’re usually real sluggish, they’re not able to move. He can move like a power forward. He was standing on [the bosu ball], throwing a medicine ball back at me. It was like a hundred miles an hour, like he lost his mind. When you’re looking at it, he’s like, ‘This is easy.’
“You’re 6-7, 300 pounds doing this. It’s not supposed to be easy, this ball’s supposed to start tilting. He’s balancing really easy. That’s the type of guy that they’re getting. Most people — if I put a big guy on that, they won’t even be able to balance on it without two feet. He’s on one foot with ease, catching and throwing a medicine ball.”
— NPA_GASCREW ⛽️⛽️⛽️ (@TFootballGeek) December 17, 2017
A new goal
All of that work in the classroom, on the field and in the weight room culminated with his arrival at Ohio State in January. When Wray spoke with reporters on Feb. 7, he had just completed Ohio State’s first mat drills session of the year, a brutal 6 a.m. workout designed to test players.
“It was rough,” he said. “First mat drill is always the worst one. You can’t really prepare for it. It’s unlike anything you’ve ever done before, so it’s tough.”
With his weight gained, his enrollment secured and his body stronger than ever, Wray already has his sights set on new goals.
“Goal is definitely to be on the field and play, whether it be a starter or rotating in, but I would love to play, that’s my goal,” Wray said. “And at the end of the day, it’s whatever helps the team the most.”
Max Wray breakdown
|247Sports composite ranking (OT/overall)||No. 9/No. 121|
|Commitment date||April 15, 2017|