- Associated Press - Friday, April 29, 2011

EAST LANSING, MICH. (AP) - Four years after his football career was halted by a frightening cancer diagnosis, Michigan State’s Arthur Ray Jr. is dreaming big once again.

It’s game day at Spartan Stadium, and Ray is in uniform, running out of the tunnel and on to the field.

“Every day, every night I go to sleep, I see myself doing it,” he said. “I see the crowd. I see the student section going crazy.”

For so long, Ray’s high hopes seemed out of reach. Two months after signing with Michigan State in 2007, he began chemotherapy for a cancerous tumor in his left leg. Although his condition improved initially, an infection derailed his return to football.

After several operations and about two years using crutches, Ray began making significant progress in 2010, and he was cleared this January for more intense physical activity. He’s been back at practice this month, and no matter how much he actually plays, the affable offensive lineman’s return figures to be the most heartwarming moment of Saturday’s spring game.

“When you see him back and you watch Arthur play, it gives you a feeling like you can accomplish anything,” coach Mark Dantonio said. “I think that’s the message to our football team, and that’s the message to the general public.”

As he was wrapping up his senior season at Mount Carmel High School in Chicago, Ray noticed a lump on his leg. He had a tumor on a bone near his left calf, and although he did not need a prosthetic as originally feared, he faced several weeks of chemotherapy.

Ray had successful surgery to remove the tumor in July 2007, but his medical problems were far from over thanks to a subsequent infection. He’s had multiple bone-graft operations and says he had surgery nine times.

“Four on my leg and five other ones related to chemo or something else,” Ray said.

All the while, he kept going to games, trying to remain part of a team he couldn’t play for.

“That’s what really kept us going _ kept him going,” said his father, Arthur Ray Sr. “He loved the game so much.”

When he was finally able to put the crutches away about a year ago, Ray wasn’t content.

“Once I finally got off those and started walking, and you hear people that are like, ‘Aw, he’s walking now. That’s good enough,’” he said. “I was never satisfied. I always knew I’d get to this point where I’d be able to run and perform at this level.”

Although he was cleared early this year for increased conditioning work, there was still one more hurdle for Ray and the Spartans. He had been medically disqualified so as not to count against the team’s scholarship limit, but he was granted a waiver by the NCAA that now enables him to participate.

Ray and his family have been cautious about discussing too many specific goals, saying he simply wants to keep making progress physically and not think too far into the future. The team has been careful not to rush him, even amid the initial excitement when he first returned to practice.

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