It’s 4 a.m. and Zyion Ray hops out of bed, puts on his football gear and begins his daily walk to join his fellow Truman High School football teammates on the field located behind the high school.

Depending on his mood, he can take the “long” 45-minute rout down Noland Road or the “shorter“ 35-minute trek where he winds his way through sleepy Independence neighborhoods.

“People ask my all the time why I get up at 4 in the morning and walk to practice,” Ray said, “and I tell them it clears my head and gets me ready for practice. Sometimes, if I want a long walk, I’ll walk down Noland Road and just think about practice and what I have to do to get better.

“Then there are days when I take the shorter route, and I carry a football and change it from my right hand to my left hand, and concentrate of what I have to do when I carry the ball. As a defensive back, I don’t have to carry it that much, but I want to know the right way to do it.”

First-year Truman head coach Charlie Pugh, who had been an assistant in the Liberty School District the past 15 years, is inspired by Ray’s dedication.

“Zyion inspires all of us,” said Pugh, who often ends his practices with stories about life lessons away from the football field. “Here is a young man who gets up every morning at 4 so he won’t be late for practice. He beats all of us here.

“I talk about dedication, leaving a legacy, being a difference maker with a new outlook, a new coaching staff, a new team – and Zyion is the type of player I’m talking about. I think he inspires everyone on the team.”

Ray, a junior defensive back, can’t wait for tonight’s jamboree, and playing his first game under the lights.

“It’s always dark when I start to walk to Truman, so I see a lot of lights, but I’ve never played under the lights and I am so excited,” he said. “I transferred from Hogan (Prep) last year and was too late to play football. I was part of the track team, but I always dreamed about playing football.

“And Friday night, my dream is going to come true.”

After a brief conversation, he walks over to Pugh and his staff, gives each of them a handshake and warm embrace and heads up the steps of the stadium for that long walk home.

“There’s a young man who loves football, loves everything about his team and being a part of Truman High School,” Pugh said.

Ray was already in the parking lot and couldn’t hear what his coach had to say about him. He didn’t need to. Their bond needs no words.