RAYMONDVILLE, Mo. — For some, driving professionally is the dream. For others, driving is a great way to earn a living while chasing a dream. That’s definitely the case for Michael Wray.
“I’m a football nut,” he freely acknowledges. “I’m always watching, college or pro.”
His favorite pro team is the Green Bay Packers, but he’ll watch anyone who’s playing.
Years ago, Wray played on the defensive line for Liberty High School in Bedford, Virginia. Although his playing career went no further, he fell in love with the strategy of the game and wanted to share his love with others. That’s when he invented “You’re the Coach, the Ultimate Football Board Game.” He’s been improving and refining his invention ever since.
The current version consists of a game board, dice, and accompanying cards and accessories. Up to 20 players can get into a game, but one person can play solo as well. Offensive or defensive plays are selected, and a roll of the dice determines the outcome of each play. Selected cards add unexpected elements to the game, creating an experience that’s as close to a real football contest as possible.
“It’s like the spaghetti sauce: ‘It’s in there,’” said Wray, referring to a 1980s commercial catchphrase about vital ingredients. The cards include broken plays, turnovers, weather events, injuries and even player fatigue as factors that impact the game.
“The results are so real, you feel like you’re on the sidelines of a real football game,” Wray explained. “Power rankings are included in the game, so each player knows the strengths and weaknesses of his team.”
Over the years, Wray has spoken with representatives of the NFL, as well as game manufacturers like Milton Bradley and others, about marketing “You’re the Coach,” but has yet to find a deal. He dreams of an appearance on the television show “Shark Tank,” where he plays the game against “Mr. Wonderful” (Kevin O’Leary) with Mark Cuban at his side. It’s unlikely that the fantasy will ever be fulfilled, he said.
“The red tape is unreal to get on that show,” Wray explained.
No professional or college football team or player names are used in “You’re the Coach” because the cost of working with the NFL was prohibitive, Wray said. “The guy I talked to started at $100,000 and went up from there.”
One relationship that showed early promise was with representatives of the startup “Opportunity Football League.” According to Wray, talks were underway for a sponsorship opportunity, but plans for a new league collapsed when COVID-19 restrictions impacted all professional sports.
While he waits for the right connection to take sales of “You’re the Coach,” to another level, Wray and his fiancée, Chrissy White, assemble and ship copies of the game to purchasers from his Raymondville, Missouri, home.
Game boards and materials are printed in nearby Rolla, Missouri, by Scotts Printing.
“We worked really hard on the design,” Wray said. “We wanted the game to have as professional an appearance as possible, and Scotts was able to deliver for us.”
Multiple artists contributed to the game’s artwork, but the one to which Wray gives the most credit is Robert Gillis from Joplin, Missouri.
Advertising for Wray’s game is simple, too — it’s on the side of Wray’s truck. In fact, he named his business “You’re the Coach Transport LLC” to help spread the word. Currently he hauls loads for a local business, Woody Bogler Trucking, but he has plans to expand once he purchases his own trailer. The truck is a work in progress, decorated with photos of the game board and other game information.
Wray started his trucking career after 16 years of service in the Navy, when he attended a CDL school sponsored by MS Carriers.
“I learned to drive trucks in the Navy, so I knew it was something I could do,” he said.
Wray’s trucking resume is a long one, as he has changed carriers with regularity, seeking more time and opportunity to promote his invention. He’s run under his own authority multiple times, trying to balance his trucking business with his dream going big time with “You’re the Coach.”
The advertising on his truck presents a challenge to drive his best, too. “Every time you change lanes, people see that name,” he explained.
While he’s traveling, Wray lines up games against all comers.
“I especially enjoy playing against football coaches, he said. “They are often surprised at how realistic the game is, and they provide a lot of feedback.” He insists, however, that the game helps anyone learn more about football. “You don’t have to be an expert to play, but you’ll become one by playing.”
Wray talks about “You’re the Coach” to anyone who will listen — shippers and receivers, fuel stops and the frequent callers he chats with daily. One of those is his mother, who he credits for being a big influence on his dream.
“I get my work ethic from my mom and dad,” he said. Another major influence was his grandmother, Christine Smith, who passed away one day short of her 100th birthday and was well known in the area.
“I love meeting people, and I love being on the open road,” Wray said. One person he met was a skeptical DOT officer who questioned why he was so far out-of-route to his stated destination. “I took a side trip to see Ratliff Stadium (the scene of much of the filming in the classic football classic movie, “Friday Night Lights),” he explained.
When he’s not on the road, Wray enjoys spending time with his fiancée and with his grandson, Grayson. Family activities include rafting down the nearby Current River and other outdoor activities, and Grayson often rides along with Wray on road trips.
Whether he’s running freight or marketing his game, Wray plans to continue his quest for success in both endeavors.
Cliff Abbott is an experienced commercial vehicle driver and owner-operator who still holds a CDL in his home state of Alabama. In nearly 40 years in trucking, he’s been an instructor and trainer and has managed safety and recruiting operations for several carriers. Having never lost his love of the road, Cliff has written a book and hundreds of songs and has been writing for The Trucker for more than a decade.