Shane Ray was getting ready to head to Chicago. After three seasons starring as a linebacker at Missouri, the 21-year-old was preparing to be as a top pick in the NFL draft.
Then at 5:46 a.m. Monday in Cooper County, Mo., a state highway patrol officer pulled over Ray and detected the scent of marijuana. After conducting a search, the officer found a "personal amount" in the car.
Ray was allowed to drive from the scene without going into custody because the officer deemed that he wasn't impaired. But the unanimous All-American and 2014 SEC Defensive Player of the Year did receive a citation for a misdemeanor possession of 35 grams or less of marijuana and a failure to drive in the right lane of the highway. Ray was warned for speeding and has a Cooper County court date on June 30.
On Thursday, Ray did hear his name called at the draft, but at No. 23, he was not selected as high as projected before his citation.
Oh, and because the world is full of irony, the Denver Broncos were the team that picked him. Colorado was the nation's first state to legalize marijuana, a point quickly made at Ray's press conference.
"Are you prepared to handle jokes about marijuana legalization in Colorado?" a reporter asked.
"That's not a worry for me," Ray said. "Just because I was cited for marijuana possession doesn't mean I'm this huge smoker or some huge drug addict. If anybody looks at the police report, they'll understand that I wasn't even under the influence. I haven't had any marijuana issues in my career and I've been good, so that's not a concern for me at all."
Marijuana use is banned in the NFL, so it didn't really matter which team selected him. But naturally, there are questions about Ray's maturity, and he realizes that the citation prompted teams to pass on him. That meant his shaking Roger Goodell's hand and putting on a Broncos hat was less celebratory than he might have imagined and more about trying to gain legitimacy.
"With the incident that happened on Monday, nothing was guaranteed for my future, and I understood that," Ray said. "I didn't know where I was going to end up. I was hoping that maybe some of the teams that were showing interest in me were still going to give me the chance, but a lot of those teams passed on me. The Broncos decided to give me that opportunity, so with the Broncos, I'm going to show those other teams that they made a huge mistake."
The Broncos actually traded up to draft Ray, recognizing the ability to make a high-risk, high-reward pick in the linebacker. At No. 23, Ray could be a steal for John Elway and the Broncos staff.
Asked if he has a chip on his shoulder, Ray said: "This does nothing but add fuel to the fire, and I hope those people and those teams understand that that's the kind of person I am I will use this as motivation, and I hope that I do see every one of those teams twice a year. Each team that passed on me is circled."
Ray is confident he can prove the naysayers wrong. "I told him I was going show him it was a great decision," Ray said, repeating what he told Elway after getting drafted.
Ray has been under the microscope for four days. He appears to be embracing it, which is smart, because the scrutiny will likely continue. Ultimately he needs to show this week's incident was just an unfortunate blip. Otherwise he is just blowing smoke.
-- Follow Jeffrey Eisenband on Twitter @JeffEisenband.