2019/05/29

Ray Pryor: An All-American both on and off the field


It’s tough to find an individual that defined the term student-athlete more so than Ray Von Pryor. The former Ohio State star center was an All-American both on and off the gridiron.

Ray Von Pryor was born on February 19, 1945, in Brundidge, Alabama, the son of James Reynolds and Kate Lampley. Reynolds passed away at the young age of 40 years old, due to a heart attack in what would become an important clue in his son’s life being cut short.

The family made their way to Hamilton, Ohio, when Ray Von was 10 years old. Ray and his older sister were both renamed Pryor after their mother married Willie Pryor. Five half siblings would follow as Ray Von grew up in a family of nine.

He and his older sister, Anne, had a very close bond growing up. She recalled that when two were young children, she’d often cry because her mouth was hurting. Ray would tell her, “When I grow up, I’m going to become a dentist so I can take your aches away.”

The Pryor’s didn’t have much money and what little they did have, generally went to the younger five children. That left Ray in many adverse situations that would shape the young man he would become.

He was a quiet child, very shy, but was very popular among his peers. The overwhelming sentiment by everyone that came into contact with Ray Von was that he was extremely smart. There weren’t many children that liked to go to class as much as Pryor did. He thoroughly enjoyed his studies and would accomplish so much in his little time on earth because of his thirst for knowledge.

He was extremely athletic too, playing baseball, basketball, football, and track. As he got older, his athletic focus turned more towards football. The decision would lead to him becoming an All-Ohio center as well as the team captain at Garfield Senior High School.

But high school was a trying time for Pryor off the field. He didn’t have his own wardrobe. He struggled to eat too. He was given a nickel a day for lunch in a time when a hot lunch cost 35 cents.

But when you’re a genuine good person, others will come to your aid in a time of need. That was the case for Pryor. His girlfriend’s brother-in-law allowed Ray Von to borrow his clothes to wear so he didn’t look out of place as an adolescent. His football coaches wouldn’t allow him to go hungry so they made sure he had food on his lunch plate each day.

Despite his life struggles, one thing that remained constant was his love for knowledge. He finished fifth in his senior class and used his football skills to get a full scholarship to Ohio State. Although friends said he knew he only wanted to go to Ohio State, he parlayed his recruiting battle between seven Big Ten schools into financial and living assistance for his girlfriend at Ohio State as well.

The two of them made their way to Columbus with Pryor eager to play for the legendary Woody Hayes. Freshmen were not eligible for varsity competition at that time, but Pryor stuck out in a talented freshman class. One assistant coach told a friend of Pryor’s that Ray could have played four or five different positions as a freshman on the 1963-1964 Ohio State Buckeyes.

As a sophomore, he started the season as a reserve offensive guard. By October, he was the starting left guard alongside All-American tackle Jim Davidson. The team jumped up to the nation’s top ranking after a 6-0 start, but were blown out at home by No. 2 Penn State in their seventh game. They’d fall one more time before the end of the season and would finish as the ninth ranked team in the country.

As a junior, Pryor was moved back to his natural position of center. He started receiving national attention when he held College Football Hall of Fame defensive tackle Bubba Smith to just two tackles in a loss to No. 4 Michigan State. Smith later referred to Pryor as the toughest opposition he faced during his college days. Ohio State won their last five regular season games, including a win at Michigan, to finish 7-2 and second place in the Big Ten. Pryor was named All-Big Ten and an Academic All-American.

More importantly in his mind, he was elected a tri-captain by his teammates for his senior season. “It's been the best thing that has happened to me since I've been here,” Pryor told The Lantern. “Perhaps a selection to an All-American team would rate equal status.”

Ohio State, as a unit, struggled during Ray’s senior season in 1966. They lost three of their first four games, but managed to stay within a field goal of top ranked Michigan State. On November 5th, the Buckeyes topped Indiana by a touchdown to help earn Woody Hayes his 100th career victory. OSU would close the season with a record of just 4-5 and finished in sixth place in the Big Ten.

Following the season, Pryor would be named a First Team All-American by Look Magazine Football Writers Association of America and Second Team by Newspaper Enterprise Association. He would also be voted Ohio State’s Most Valuable Player by his teammates.

Although football experts noted his strong stamina on the field, the highly competitive Pryor was likely masking a serious underlying issue. His sister noted that a heart condition likely had him highly fatigued during games, but he somehow managed to battle through it.

The center dabbled with some interest from the NFL, but ultimately decided to stay in school. A Pre-Med major with high marks, Pryor was also awarded a post-graduate scholarship by Ohio State to continue his studies. He’d attend Ohio State Dental School before going to the Medical College of Toledo. One of Pryor’s classmates at Toledo nicknamed him, “The Wonder Kid.”

Pryor married his high school sweetheart and the couple had a son together, but the marriage would end shortly after it began.

Just as he had predicted to his sister as a young child, Ray Von became a dentist and practiced in his hometown of Hamilton, Ohio.

One day in 1976, a 31-year old Pryor was hanging out at home with his then girlfriend. Calmly, he told her to call 9-1-1 because he was experiencing a heart attack. After being taken to the hospital, he’d recover from this heart attack, but just a few short years later, he would not be so fortunate.

Three years later in late October of 1979, Pryor and his older sister went shopping and picked up some fish at the grocery store. When his sister told him she would host him the next day for a fish fry, his puzzling response was that he wouldn’t be here anymore. As one friend put it, he knew the human body as well as anybody and knew exactly what was going on inside his own.

The next day, November 1, 1979, Pryor passed away from a massive heart attack in his home. A brilliant mind that had so much to offer this world, gone at just 34 years of age.

One of his teachers paid tribute to Pryor by saying, “Ray Von had the kind of mind that he would have excelled at anything he decided to do.”

She was right. Pryor was a team captain in both high school and college, voted team MVP at OSU, and recognized as one of college football’s best as a senior. He was posthumously inducted into the Butler County Sports Hall of Fame (2001) as well as the Hamilton Hall of Fame (2002). He finished near the top of all his graduating classes, received Academic All-Conference and All-American honors, earned a license to perform plastic surgery, and had his own dental practice. All in just 34 short years.

It’s not often that an All-American’s accomplishments off the field stand on equal ground or even overshadow those that he achieved on. But that definitely was the case for Ray Von Pryor, one of the best student-athletes and centers to ever line up for Ohio State.

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