This summer, Austin Bray is working hard to get fitter and stronger, training in Fresno with ex-NFL player Cam Worrell in anticipation of his first post-Kingsburg High football season.
But that football season won’t be at a four-year college or junior college. Bray, who graduated from Kingsburg High earlier this month, will be attending a prep school where he can play an additional year of high school-type football.
He will travel cross-country to Virginia in August to enroll at — and play football for — Fork Union Military Academy, a sixth-to-12th grade school with an additional year (like a grade 13) for athletes or those wanting to improve grades before college.
Fork Union is a prep school, a special breed of institution that offers post-graduate teams in football and basketball.
“One of the premier college preparatory boarding military schools for boys in grades 6-12 and postgraduate,” the school describes itself in its website.
Playing at a prep school after high school allows athletes to compete for one more season before beginning their college careers. It does not count against college eligibility, leaving players four seasons of college competition.
Some athletes play at a prep school to improve their academic standing. Others, like Bray, do it to mature physically and gain experience and exposure.
The town of Fork Union is in Central Virginia, west of Richmond and south of Charlottesville.
That’s where Bray will live this fall as he plays for Fork Union Military Academy’s post-graduate football team. His goal is to attract college scouts in way he wasn’t able to at Kingsburg High.
“My name didn’t get out there much,” he said of his high school career.
Indeed, Bray did not attract college recruiters the way his older brother Tyler did. Tyler Bray is the starting quarterback at Tennessee, entering his junior season with the Vols.
Austin Bray was the heir apparent to replace Tyler as a junior, but broke his wrist in the first game and was lost for the season.
As a senior last fall Austin started strong with a 426-yard, six-touchdown performance that earned him a California Player of the Week nod. But for the rest of the season he shared time with sophomore Brandon Steele in coach Dave Steele’s quarterback platoon system.
Bray finished his high school career by throwing the winning touchdown to Trevor Price in Kingsburg’s 41-34 win over Ridgeview in the CIF Central Section Division III championship game in Bakersfield.
So Fork Union is getting a player loaded with potential but lacking the high school game experience of many graduated seniors.
Add the fact that he is still just 17 years old and still growing, and Bray appears to be an ideal prep school candidate.
His family believes it is the best opportunity their son.
“Junior college can be a great option if you feel that is your only opportunity,” said father Jeff Bray, himself a former JC basketball player.
“In Austin’s situation, we looked for an alternative.”
They believe they have found it at $30,000-a-year Fork Union, whose football alumni include former Heisman Award winners and NFL stars Eddie George and Vinnie Testaverde.
“For us it was kind of a no-brainer,” Jeff Bray said. “This is his opportunity to have a fair shake.”
Jeff Bray explains that Austin, unlike Tyler, is a late developer. Whereas Tyler Bray was 6-1 when he entered Kingsburg High (he’s now 6-6), Austin was 5-9 as a freshman but grew to 6-5 by his senior year.
Austin Bray will not turn 18 until Aug. 22. The Brays said they considered holding Austin back a year in eighth grade but declined to so because he was a good student and good athlete.
By spending a season at Fork Union, the Brays expect Austin will gain experience and get stronger physically.
The goal is for Austin to showcase his skills at Fork Union for a semester, then transfer to a college in the spring semester and be ready to play collegiate football in 2013.
Jeff Bray said Fork Union was chosen because its coach John Shuman, with more than 30 years at FUMA, has a reputation for finding college opportunities for his players.
“If he calls a school and says ‘I’ve got a guy who will fit into your system,’ [college coaches] take that as gospel,” Jeff Bray said.
Austin Bray said Fork Union coaches liked his arm strength and accuracy, but wanted him to get stronger and more fit.
When Austin Bray arrives at Fork Union in August, he’ll go through three-a-day practices to get ready for the season.
Fork Union’s schedule usually includes games against other prep schools, high schools and small college teams.
Kingsburg coach Steele said he likes the idea of Bray playing a season at a prep school.
“I think it’s a good opportunity for Austin because of his age coming out of high school,” Steele said. “It will allow him to get stronger and faster and another year older.
“It also will allow him to continue developing more at quarterback without costing him a year of eligibility in college.
“He will do great and it will be exciting to see where he ends up in college after that.”
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