Rainey ready for increased role

Published: Wednesday, April 2, 2008 at 10:50 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, April 2, 2008 at 10:50 p.m.

The rumor started floating around campus last fall, when he was sitting out his freshman season following shoulder surgery. Now, for some reason, it has come creeping back around this spring even though he is competing for the starting role at tailback.

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Florida running back Chris Rainey breaks through the defensive line during a recent practice.

Aaron Daye/The Gainesville Sun


Are you fast?

What: Urban Meyer's Fastest Student Contest

When: 4 p.m. today

Where: UF practice field

Who: UF students who are not current or former UF athletes, trying to qualify to race wide receiver Deonte Thompson and running back Chris Rainey in the 40-yard dash at the April 12 Orange and Blue Debut.

Chris Rainey is unhappy at Florida and looking to transfer.

"That's the rumor," Rainey said. "A lot of people have been hearing that I'm going to transfer. I keep hearing it now."

Rainey is laughing when he says this, because this is one rumor that has absolutely no chance of becoming reality.

Chris Rainey leave Florida?

"Never," he said. "I'm lifetime."

There is no bigger Gator anywhere than Rainey, the diminutive speedster from Lakeland.

"I've been a Gator all my life," he said. "I played with the Gators (in Pop Warner) when I was little. Even my brother played with the little Gators.

"I've always loved the Gators, loved the colors, loved the atmosphere. I love everything about the Gators. Emmitt Smith was my favorite player. I committed to Florida my junior year. That was the only school I was looking at, the only school I would visit. I'm in love with it."

Rainey's love for Florida is stronger than ever now that he's making plays and making a serious run at the tailback job.

Rainey was the offensive star in last Saturday's scrimmage, breaking loose for a 50-yard touchdown on a screen pass and catching a 60-yard TD pass a few minutes later.

"I've been waiting for that for a long time," Rainey said.

So have the UF coaches.

"That's why he's here at Florida, because he can do those things," new running backs coach Kenny Carter said. "That's what we expect him to do. We expect him to do those things consistently now."

Rainey was not ready to make plays as a true freshman last season. It wasn't just the bum shoulder he came in with. It was also the fact he arrived in Gainesville weighing less than 160 pounds and without a lot of muscle on his slight frame.

Rainey's lack of strength was such that UF coach Urban Meyer could walk by and punch a football out of his grasp. Meyer was frank with Rainey, telling him he wasn't yet strong enough to carry the ball in the SEC.

"Everything he said, I took to heart," Rainey said. "I told myself that I needed to get better so he'd call me a good player."

Well, that time has arrived.

"He's up in the top five playmakers on the team and you know our history, if you're a top five playmaker you touch the ball a bunch," Meyer said.

"He's on that top four or five list as far as turnarounds. He had a hard time just brushing his teeth and shaving and getting himself right for day-to-day work (last fall). I don't know if he's a grown man yet. He's getting there. He's about 176 (pounds) now. He's doing great."

Rainey said he has gained 25 pounds since last summer and increased his strength.

"I did it eating, lifting and all that kind of stuff," he said.

Carter said Rainey is now big enough and strong enough to even have success running between the tackles, as he showed in Saturday's scrimmage.

"You look at Chris and see his size and you think he's a guy in the open field, because he's extremely fast and very elusive," Carter said. "He's really good at running between the tackles, too. He can do it all.

"He's grown leaps and bounds in the weight room. He's bought into getting bigger. He's much stronger than he's ever been. When it's all said and done, he can be a 195-pound guy. He's a youngster, he's still growing."

Rainey is one of the fastest players on the team (he says he's been timed at 4.29 seconds in the 40) and may be one of the most versatile. The plan, apparently, is to use him in a variety of different ways. He's been lining up at tailback, in the slot and at wide receiver. He's also playing on special teams (Meyer predicted Monday that Rainey will block a punt this season).

"He's going to get touches," Carter said. "And he can do other things. He can block punts, he can block field goals. He has a multi-faceted role within our organization."

After missing last season, Rainey said he's ready and willing to take on any role. He just wants to get on the field.

"I don't care if I have to play defense," he said. "I want to play."

It looks like he's going to get his chance making him one happy Gator.

"He's a terrific kid, a lovable kid with a great personality," Carter said. "He's one of those guys you love to be around. Everybody cheers for him because they know he's had a little adversity and he's overcoming it."

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