— Nicki Jhabvala (@NickiJhabvala) August 12, 2017
The screams echoed down the winding hallway before Shane Ray stepped inside.
“He’s coming! I see him! He’s coming!” shrieked the dozen or so grade-school children. “He’s COMING!”
Flashes from disposable cameras filled the room as the children rushed to the door, ready to bomard Ray with hugs and requests for autographs.
It was 6 p.m. on Friday and Ray, after a day’s work at the Broncos’ training facility in Englewood, had headed north to meet the group of young strangers at the Denver Rescue Mission. Traffic delayed his arrival but there was no way he was missing this trip to give the children backpacks filled with school supplies: notebooks, crayons, colored pencils, regular pencils, pencil sharpeners, pencil holders, erasers and — for the older kids — calculators.
Fifty backpacks in total were scattered across the converted motel that some 300 people call home.
This trip was a part of the Rays Awareness Foundation, which launched last year by Ray and his mother Sebrina Johnson to serve low-income families in their hometown of Kansas City as well as Denver.
“I think education is so crucial in our youth and having our kids grow up and understand that school is important. You can’t play football if you don’t go to school,” he said.
“To be able to give kids like this the opportunity to have backpacks, it’s awesome.”
The donation of backpacks and supplies was a first for the charity. Last December it donated 100 lightly used shoes to families at the Rescue Mission and, over the summer, Ray hosted his inaugural youth football camp in Kansas City.
“It was awesome. I had maybe 300 kids come out. It was a free camp, and that was big for me because I remember when I couldn’t go to football camp as a kid because it cost too much,” he said. “… There’s nothing better than kids enjoying themselves and actually having fun. That’s what it’s all about.”
For the last two weeks Ray has been recovering from surgery on his left wrist that ended his training camp after only three days. He recently got the stitches removed and is sporting a sleeve and brace on his hand.
“That’s the first step for me to be able to actually work out and sweat and do something else like getting my cardio,” he said. “I’m trying to find ways to get in the weight room so I can lift. It’s all coming together. It’s unfortunate, but when I do come back, I’ll be more than prepared.”
Ray was initially projected to return early in the regular season, perhaps by Week 3 when the Broncos head to Buffalo for their first regular-season road trip. The plan, he says, is still a go.
“I think so. Everything is healing fine,” he said. “The doctor says my hand is healing well. My stitches, when they came out the scars looked good, so I’m just excited. I look at it as they gave me four extra weeks to train.”
Nicki Jhabvala, The Denver Post
Ray’s mother, Sebrina Johnson, gives the children Rays Awareness Foundation T-shirts.