Editor's Note: The Rice Athletic Department is introducing a new initiative called "Tomorrow's Leaders" with the goal of developing student athletes into individuals who are ready to excel in today's competitive environment. Rice safety Andray Downs is the first student-athlete to be featured as part of the introduction of the program
Anyone who knew Andray Downs when he was growing up in Garland, TX would not be surprised that he has embraced the challenges of leadership and community involvement during his years at Rice. Downs had never shied from responsibility in high school and had also embraced at an early age the importance of giving something back to his community.
But those same people might be a little surprised to hear that the football player who left for Houston in the fall of 2002 is now an aspiring sculptor who spent part of his summer reviewing data as part of NASA research on the protective tiles that protect the space shuttle.
For Downs, the offer to play football at Rice was the conduit to a much larger opportunity, an education at one of the country's premiere centers of learning.
"I had a good idea what my major was going to be, " Downs said. "But you have an opportunity as a freshman to branch out and take courses in different division areas. It gave me a chance to study some things that I might not have tried at another school."
On a suggestion from a teammate, Downs took a sculpture course and discovered an outlet for expression. A course in statistics led to a chance to participate in a project with NASA, where he poured over data looking for a better method to identify and reinforce those areas of the shuttle's protective tile covering that experienced the greatest temperature spikes during re-entry.
While his academic resume broadened with diverse flourishes, he has continued to serve as a leader and a mentor to students ranging from new freshman on campus for the first time to eager elementary students who are always able to elicit one of Downs' infectious smiles.
In recognition of his embracement of the full range of possibilities available to any student at Rice while also excelling on the gridiron, Downs was honored by the Kiwanis Club of Houston with the George H.W. Bush Kiwanis Sports Hero Award . The student leader from Garland found himself shaking the hand of and accepting an award from a former President of the United States.
He is Andray Downs, and he is one of Tomorrow's Leaders.