September 5, 2009

Ray's debut: Not bad, not bad at all

EAST LANSING ---- Caulton Ray wasn't really sure what to expect as a redshirt freshman getting his first taste of Division I action but he knew it wasn't going to be like high school, where some of his standout performances seemed to come naturally.

Still, as he stepped on the Spartan Stadium floor for the first time as Michigan State's starting running back, he also felt like it wouldn't take him very long to get that rhythm that good running backs cherish.

"It felt good to get my first taste of the hitting,'' said Ray, whose collegiate debut resulted in a team-leading 12-carry, 71-yard debut but no touchdowns. "It's a different level and if you keep getting first downs, touchdowns will come. I feel like I had an O.K. game and that I tried my hardest and that's all that you can do.''

Actually, he may have done a little more than he thought he could do after being named the starting running back for Saturday's game.

After gaining just one yard on his first collegiate carry, a lot of things seemed to just come to the 5-foot-9, 195-pound Southfield native, who ripped off a nine yard gain on his next try. And followed that with 20 more yards on his third as Michigan State rolled to a 44-3 rout of Montana State on Saturday.

"I was real nervous (at the start of the game) but after I got the ball a few times I felt good,'' said Ray, who redshirted last season. "I hadn't been in there (in a game) in a while, so coming out with the new smoke stuff was nice. It was really intense, with the crowd, the fans and my mom in the stands. The adrenaline was pumping but as soon as I got on the sidelines and the Star Spangled Banner came on, I felt good.''

Ray was part of a trio of young runners, which included true freshmen Edwin Baker and Larry Caper, that accumulated 74 of the Spartans' 88 rush yards in the first half.

And Ray, who ended the day with seven runs of 5 yards or more, was definitely a catalyst in the run game. Three of his runs gave the Spartans a fresh set of downs.

"I think Caulton Ray did a really nice job making plays and getting into the secondary and breaking some tackles,'' MSU head coach Mark Dantonio said.

Ray may have thoroughly enjoyed his first experience as a direct contributor to the Spartans' success on a football Saturday, but like any runner in his position, he's already thinking of what's next and what he needs to improve on.

"Maybe pass protection. You can always get better at that,'' he said. "Maybe run a little harder. Everything. Everything. Step it up a little bit more every time.''

Of course, if he can continue producing results like the one he had against the Bobcats on Saturday, he might even may start to ease fears about a run game that lost workhorse back like Javon Ringer.

"Hey man, those are some big shoes to fill. I don't know about all of that,'' Ray said with a smile. "I'm just starting out and I've got a long way to go.''

JUST LIKE OLD TIMES: Brian Linthicum figured the basics of his position would be the same after a year off.

With a three-catch, 26-yard, one touchdown performance on Saturday against the Bobcats, the Charlottesville, Va., was all smiles as he discussed his return to Division I competition.

"I was actually pretty nervous before the game and I knew I would be because I had been nervous for the last couple of weeks,'' he said. "But really excited and happy though that I finally got to get out there and just have fun again,''

Still, that didn't stop him from overthinking his first game back at tight end after more than a year away from game action.

Linthicum, a 6-4, 245 pound redshirt sophomore ---- who sat out last season per required NCAA rules after transferring from Clemson ---- confessed feeling the jitters prior to MSU's season-opening victory on Saturday.

"I thought about (playing again) a lot,'' he said. "I was comparing a lot of pregame things, a lot of rituals I used to do and how those things worked at Clemson. Finally, I just decided to put those doubts aside and just play (Because) it's just about the game.''

But it didn't take him long to get comfortable once the game started. His first catch came with a little more than 3 minutes left in the first quarter.

"It was great. I can see it right now,'' he said of his first catch. "I looked it in just a little extra longer just to make sure I secured the ball. It was exciting. It took me straight back to my freshman year (at Clemson). It was definitely a sigh of relief and just got me excited for the rest of the season.''

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