A Saline County native, Justin Ray is currently the offensive coordinator for Benton High School. While football has always been a big part of his life, he never dreamed it would be his job. But as you get to know Justin and hear him talk about his career in the sport, you know that three words – passionate, goal-oriented, and spontaneous – fit him well.
As a junior, Justin played wide receiver for the Panthers, but during his senior year, Coach Scott Neathery moved him to quarterback, giving him the keys to run the Panther’s offense. “When I was young, I remembered my father telling me a quote that has always stuck with me. ‘Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity’, so when I earned the title of the starting quarterback, it gave me a sense of pride and accomplishment. I knew I had earned the trust of our team and they viewed me as a leader,” shares Justin.
After several successful high school football seasons, Justin graduated Benton High School in 2004, and went on to play college football at Arkansas Tech in Russellville. While there he played quarterback for three years and wide receiver for one.
Justin states, “I can honestly say, if it were not for the guidance and encouragement from my teachers and coaches, I would not have played college football and certainly would not have earned a college degree. At the time, I did not quite comprehend the magnitude their roles actually played in the development of any success I have had since high school. The support and confidence given to me by the leadership when I attended Benton High School is what gave me the courage to attack new challenges and real life obstacles.”
Justin graduated from Tech with a degree in Speech Communications, and took a job as a substitute teacher at Bauxite High School while looking for permanent employment. While at Bauxite, he would use the football weight room to work out, and it was there that he struck up a very natural friendship with off-season Coach Shane Clancy.
Justin then went on to work in the corporate world as a media consultant. It never occurred to him to turn his favorite pastime, football, into a career.
That is until he received a phone call from Coach Clancy the next year, asking him to come work for him at Bauxite as their Offensive Coordinator. Justin then got his teaching license and resigned from his corporate job. He recalls “taking that job was one of the best decision of my life,” shares Justin.
He stayed at Bauxite High School for six years, and was hired to return “home” to Benton to be their Offensive Coordinator in 2016 by Coach Neathery. Once again, Justin was given the keys to the Benton Panthers offense by his former coach.
“It was always on my mind that I wanted to wear maroon and gray again. Looking back, I am very glad I was patient because I could never have dreamed of a better challenge and opportunity I have been presented with now at my alma mater,” shares Justin. “I am excited to work alongside this great coaching staff that has proven to be tremendously successful, and to work alongside some of my high school coaches that I still admire and respect. I’m most excited for the opportunity to give back to my community and school that did so much for my growth and development as a young man.”
When asked if playing high school football made him want to become a coach, Justin answered with “Playing High School and college football made me appreciate the game and the people involved. It opened my eyes to what all the game teaches, all the values and real life applications.”
Looking ahead to this year’s season as the Benton Panthers’ Offensive Coordinator, Justin is ready for the challenges and excitement that come with his role. And as for the Salt Bowl, Justin says “I am an ultra-competitive person so being a part of one of the most well-known high school football rivalry games in the entire state of Arkansas excites the heck out of me.”