Now it appears his Buckeye career is over, as Small has been suspended by the Buckeyes for at least two weeks while his father, Ken, feels the situation is the latest in a string of moves that have held his son back while in Columbus.
"This thing goes back and back and forth but we thought we had resolved all the issues with the coaching staff at Ohio State," Ken Small said. "Ray's biggest problem was while he was in the so-called doghouse earlier it was because he was late to a couple classes and late to a team meeting and I think he fell asleep in one of the meetings."
After having toiled in what OSU head coach Jim Tressel once termed "a pretty big doghouse" during the offseason, Small endured a number change and saw his name appear alongside the team's walk-ons in the 2008 media guide. He appeared to have put his past problems – situations such as arriving late to class or team meetings – firmly in the rearview mirror.
Following the USC game, Small was the team's leading receiver with 14 receptions for 92 yards. For the year, he is second on the team with 18 catches for 149 yards.
But on Wednesday afternoon, Small called his father to tell him he had been suspended again and that he was not allowed to be within the Woody Hayes Athletic Center for two weeks.
Ray Small showed his father a piece of paper showing that he has missed class four times, but Ken Small said he contacted the professor who assured him his son was there. Ken Small said his son also missed practice time to vote early in the week and that the absence was excused but still held against Ray.
"Today was out of the clear blue sky," Ken Small said. "It's like they were sitting around looking for ways to wreck Ray Small's life."
Ken Small then pointed out that other players have failed drug tests and been arrested for DUI but have faced weaker punishments than his son in his eyes.
Ray Small ran afoul of the coaching staff prior to spring practice, and the junior went through spring practice unsure as to whether or not he would be allowed to participate in the team's annual spring game. Later that spring, the coaches had a meeting with Small's parents, his brother and teammate Rob Rose, also an alumnus of Cleveland Glenville and a close family friend.
The decision was made to stay in the program and work to prove his worth.
"I just felt like you're at The Ohio State University and people would kill to be in your shoes and now you want to walk away," Ken Small said. "I looked around and saw all these pictures of these great football players and I said, ‘My son's picture could be up there.' "
The Small family entered the season believing that Ray was in the clear and poised for a big season. At the team's media day during fall camp, Ray Small told BuckeyeSports.com that he had grown throughout the process and was looking forward to proving that he had put his past problems behind him.
"I'm very proud of Ray and how he's responded to the adversity that he's faced in the last six or seven months," OSU wide receivers coach Darrell Hazell said prior to the USC game. "He's come back, he's worked his tail off and he's done everything we've asked and he's beginning to produce the way we thought he could produce."
Following the USC game, though, Small saw just one play of action in the team's game against Troy despite his team-high six catches one week prior. Tressel downplayed any sort of disciplinary situation following the game, but Ken Small said his son saw one play of action to ensure that he would not be able to qualify for a medical redshirt.
Through it all, the coaches have assured the Small family that they want to see Ray Small remain a Buckeye. That does not appear likely to happen now, however, as he is looking at trying to land a spot in the NFL Combine at the end of the season with hopes of being drafted.
Ken Small said they had received that advice from Glenville head coach Ted Ginn Sr.
"Right now the advice for him is to see where you place without hiring an agent and then it's possible you could come back next year or go someplace else," Ken Small said. "He's so far in that he really has one of two choices: one is to stay there and keep getting abused or ignored and the other is pray that he can get invited to the combine and show them what he can do."
Where Ray Small will play next season is unclear at this point, but it seems likely that his time as a Buckeye is over.
"I don't see him playing for them," Ken Small said. "I really don't see him playing for Ohio State ever again."