Trucker has been fine tuning football board game since eighth grade
There’s no denying that football games for kids, and adults, have made great advancements over the years. In the days of COVID-19 it’s nice to have some fun games to play at home.
Most kids back in the ’60s had an electric football game. You had a football field and 11 little football figures per side, and when you made the board vibrate the players moved. Some went around in circles and others, who usually ended up carrying the ball, went straight ahead. It was fun, but not the most realistic of games.
Another game kids played was called “Foto-Electric” football. One player had a group of offensive plays on sheets of paper, with the lines drawn as to where the players would go. The other would have defensive formations on a separate sheet of paper. To play the game, the offense would put his play paper on a light table and the defensive player would put his on top. Then you turned the light on and wherever the ball carrier touched a defensive guy is how far the play went. No one ever missed a tackle.
Those games are sophomoric compared to today’s computer games. Kids and adults alike play the Madden NFL game and the players not only look like their real counterparts, but they move like them, too. And, you control how they move.
That’s not good enough for Michael Wray Jr., who began making his own football game when he was in the eighth grade and now, 38 years later, is marketing a beautifully crafted and improved version of that original game. His board game, “You’re the Coach,” puts your knowledge of football to the test.
“It’s more a game of the mind than just hand-eye coordination,” he said. “It’s more of what you know, and you can visualize the action in your head.”
Anyone who has played APBA baseball or Stratomatic games will recognize the concept. In Michael’s game, players go head to head sitting on opposite sides of a professionally done football field playing board. The offensive player calls a play, with several options, and the other player counters with a defense that he thinks will outsmart his opponent. A dice roll determines the outcome with probabilities geared to what might actually happen in a real game.
It’s fascinating, and very realistic. The offense has a myriad of plays to choose from, and each play has several options in itself. You’ll feel like the offensive coordinator looking at what is jokingly called a “Denny’s Menu” on the sideline. You know, that big plastic page of plays coaches use.
You can play an entire game in anywhere from an hour and a half to two hours, or maybe a little longer if you’re a novice. However, it’s easy to pick up and once you start it becomes addictive, especially if you love football.
“If you love football, you’ll love this game,” said Wray. “Actually, the toughest people to play against are people who don’t know football, because there’s no way you can guess what they’ll do.”
Wray is originally from Salem and still has family there. His dad, Michael Sr., went to Andrew Lewis High School and his grandfather, Jimmy Garlick, and great-grandfather, Bill “Pops” Garlick, still live in Salem. Pops, who was a NASCAR chief steward, still maintains a garage in Roanoke at 90 years of age.
Michael lived in the trailer park behind the General Electric plant in Salem until it flooded and his family moved to Thaxton. He went to school at Liberty High and played on the football team for the Minutemen. He always loved football, and during the eighth grade he was assigned to do a project for school and that’s where “You’re the Coach” was born. He started out with a very primitive version and has continued to improve it over the years.
“I played it all the time,” he said. “My mom used to refer to it as ‘my little corner of the world.’”
Once perfected to his satisfaction Michael was able to get his game manufactured. Scott Printing of Rolla, Mo. and SMC Packaging of Springfield, Mo. did the work and it looks great.
“Everything is made in the USA,” he proudly proclaims.
Wray has sold about 180 copies of the game and has given away many others. He figures he needs to sell about 350 to break even from his initial manufacturing costs. The game sells for $29.95 and you can find it on-line from Amazon or eBay, adding about another 10 or 15 bucks for shipping. You can also find it on Facebook, and just recently Michael was able to talk White’s Travel Center, about an hour up I-81 in Raphine, to sell the game in the store.
A long haul trucker by trade, Wray now lives in Missouri with his fiancé Chrissy White. He has a 26-year-old daughter, Christine, and a four-and-half-year-old grandson, Grayson, who he’s anxious to start playing the game against.
Michael’s one-man trucking business is named “You’re the Coach Transport.” His cab is colorfully decorated with a copy of his game and testimonials from people who have enjoyed it from all over the country.
“I’ve been everywhere but Alaska and Hawaii,” he said. “You tell me a city or town and I’ll bet I can tell you what state it’s in.”
As he travels around the country Wray promotes his game and he offers to play it to show how realistic it is. His favorite teams are the NFL Packers (he was a Cowboys fan until Jerry Jones fired Tom Landry) and Virginia Tech in college. He was a big fan of Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster and claims more than one person has told him he resembles Bud.
Michael’s dream opponent would be Frank Beamer, but he’s yet to lure him into a contest. He has played against former Tech tight end Joe Jones who is quoted as saying it’s “hard to quit playing” in a list of testimonials.
Another person who has played the game is former West Virginia University quarterback Chad Johnston, who played quarterback for New Castle High School in Virginia before moving to West Virginia. Chad’s son Grant was a standout quarterback for Blacksburg High and Chad had some nice things to say about “You’re the Coach.”
“A great concept,” he said. “It lets you develop your own game plan and puts you in the hot seat. It’s the best football board game around.”
Mike Scharnus, who won four VHSL state championships coaching football, is a big fan of the game and Joel Hicks, a state champion coach at Pulaski County, called the game “very realistic.”
Michael has a long list of recognizable folks who he’s met in his travels. He met Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians, who was a quarterback for Virginia Tech in college. When Michael told him it was an honor to meet one of Tech’s best quarterbacks, Wray said Arians replied, “Is Michael Vick standing behind me?”
Of course, he tries to get back to Virginia as much as he can with family here. In his most recent visit he hooked up with former Amherst coach Mickey Crouch and played the game with him.
“He was Amherst and I was Salem, and I stopped him on the five-yard line,” said Wray with a chuckle. “He still likes to run the ball.”
Due to copyright issues, Wray can’t name players in the game. However, he has a tablet of game statistic sheets where you can write in the players yourself. He even has different rules for high school, college and pros to make it as realistic as possible.
“It’s amazing how realistic it can be,” he said. “I played last year’s LSU-Clemson national championship game before the game was played. My score came out 37-23 LSU and the actual score was 42-25. I played the Super Bowl and had the Chiefs winning 37-30 (actual score was 31-20).”
What began as a high school project has turned into a lifetime passion for Wray, and if determination will make it a big success he has it.
“People are amazed at how I’ve stuck with it all these years,” he said. “My goal is for the game to be in every home in America. I hope to be on (the TV show) ‘Shark Tank’ someday. I think someone would go for it if they heard my pitch.”