Aug. 2, 2013
Quan Bray answers questions from reporters Thursday (Todd Van Emst photo)
By Phillip Marshall
AUBURN, Ala. - From the time he was a little boy back home in LaGrange, Ga., when>Quan Bray played, his mother was there. If it was football, basketball or any other sport, Tonya Bray could be found in the stands cheering on her oldest son.
Jayson Bray, Tonya Bray's first cousin and a former Auburn defensive back who finished his career in 1996, says the bond between mother and son was special.
"They were almost like sister and brother," Jayson Bray says. "She never missed a game all the way from pee-wee league - football, basketball, all the games."
Quan Bray became a star at an early age. He was a quarterback and running back with rare speed and elusiveness. Colleges from across the South and beyond came calling at Troup High School. Bray, who had worked with his cousin Jayson since he was little, liked Auburn. He liked Gus Malzahn's offense. In February of 2011, with Auburn less than a month removed from the national championship, he signed scholarship papers.
Playing college football and earning a college degree was Tonya Bray's dream for her son. On July 3, 2011, with his first college practice a month away, Quan got a call for which no son could be prepared. His mother had been shot dead by Jeffrey Jones, her estranged husband and his father.
"It was tragic," Quan says. "Very tragic. It was something I didn't expect, but we don't expect a lot of things out of life. I have to take that and use it as a motivator."
In his room, Bray has photographs of his mother. He has her likeness tattooed on his right arm. Everything he does on the field and off, he says, is in her memory.
"That's her right there," Bray says, pointing at his arm. "I wake up in the morning, and that's the first thing I see."
Jayson Bray, who lives and works in Birmingham, says he has been nothing less than amazed by his cousin's resilience.
"Even for people our age, that's hard to deal with," Jayson Bray says. "Just imagine an incoming freshman having to deal with something like that. It's hard coming in as a true freshman if nothing is wrong - learning to work hard, to be accountable, to be disciplined."
But with a heavy heart,>Quan Bray kept going. He got significant playing time as a true freshman playing wide receiver for the first time in his life. He excelled in school.
"Quan was a strong kid anyway before all that happened," Jayson Bray says. "That really just showed his character and his drive to want to be the best. I've been working with Quan since he was 6 or 7. He always tried to be the best and tried to go hard."
For>Quan Bray, there are times even now that the emotions can be almost overwhelming.
"I loved my mom to death," he says. "Football was definitely an outlet. When I think about what happened, I go work out, do something to get my mind off of it and motivate me to do things the best I can for her. I know she was always with me - football, basketball or whatever. It really helped me get to where I am right now."
He has a kindred spirit in fellow wide receiver Trovon Reed, who lost his mother while he was in high school.
"We always relate to each other," Bray says. "When we are in the grind and don't want to do something, he says `Look up, man. Just look up. We have somebody to do this for.' He definitely pulled me in."
As preseason camp starts today, Bray has emerged a team leader. He's been a standout off the field. His cousin says his time is at hand on the field, too.
"He's been stellar in the classroom," Jayson Bray says. "He's had a 3.2 or 3.3 since he's been down there, even going through all that. People also really don't realize he's still getting used to the receiver position. He played nothing but quarterback and running back in high school."
While he's going to school and playing football, Bray also makes time for his 11-year-old brother Jymere, who lives in LaGrange with their grandmother, Christine Bray. "(He) might as well be my son," Quan says.
As last season came to an unhappy end and the previous coaching staff was fired,>Quan Bray waited anxiously with his teammates to see what would happen. When Malzahn, who had been Auburn's offensive coordinator just a year earlier, was named head coach, they celebrated.
"My cousin actually told me `I think Malzahn might come back,'" Quan says. "When we knew it was official, it really boosted a lot of people's confidence and everybody got to work. He recruited a lot of these guys, and a lot of guys were around him in the national championship game."
Quan Bray smiles a lot now when he talks about Auburn football, about his family and about the teammates he says provided so much support and comfort.
"It is definitely a blessing," he says, "to be where I am right now."
On June 29, 2012, Jeffrey Jones pleaded guilty to murder and aggravated assault in the death of Tonya Bray. He was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
On the day before he would take the field again begin pursuit of excellence,>Quan Bray never mentioned his father's name.
Phillip Marshall is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow Marshall on Twitter: