Rainey getting redemption


Florida's Chris Rainey celebrates a touchdown pass for a touchdown during the first half against Vanderbilt in Nashville Saturday, November 6, 2010.

Doug Finger/Staff photographer
Published: Friday, November 12, 2010 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, November 11, 2010 at 9:35 p.m.

Chris Rainey doesn't remember the first time he was in jail. He'll never forget the second time, his mother said.

"He cried until he got out," said Valerie Smart, Rainey's mother. "He cried and cried.

"My baby, he stayed out of trouble his whole life. I never worried about him. He was a good boy. He never thought he'd ever be in prison one day. That's one place he planned on never going — prison."

When the Florida wide receiver/tailback ended up there Sept. 14, he broke down emotionally.




His mother knows why: Rainey was born in jail in Lakeland on March 3, 1988, and had vowed never to go back again.

"I was on drugs," Smart said. "I was in prison when I had Chris. I was in prison when he was born. I had to leave my baby at the hospital. When he was four days old, my mother had to come and get him and take him home. She had him for me until I got my life straight."

Despite his determination never to return to the place of his birth — jail — Rainey put himself there when he was arrested in Gainesville on Sept. 14 for aggravated stalking. The charge stemmed from a text message he sent to a former girlfriend: "Time to die, (expletive)."

Rainey was dismissed from the football team. His football career and his status as a student at UF were in jeopardy as the State Attorney's Office investigated the case.

"He's not the type of person to do what he did, but he did it," Smart said. "That was not like my baby at all."

The alleged victim was an on-again, off-again girlfriend of Rainey's. She told the police and investigators that she did not fear Rainey and did not want to press charges.

Two weeks after the incident, the felony charge was reduced to a misdemeanor and Rainey accepted a deferred prosecution agreement with the State Attorney's Office.

That cleared the way for UF coach Urban Meyer and the university to allow Rainey to return to the team with certain conditions on Oct. 12. A little more than three weeks later, Rainey returned to the starting lineup for the Georgia game. Rainey has asked not to speak to the media, according to UF.

In the two games since his return, Rainey has been one of the Gators' most productive players. He ran for a touchdown against Georgia and caught a touchdown pass and blocked two punts against Vanderbilt this past Saturday.

"Chris Rainey hit rock bottom, we all know that, we're not ashamed to say that," Meyer said Sunday. "Chris is like a son to me. He's going as hard as he possibly can right now."

Meyer has said that one more misstep, one more mistake, and Rainey's UF career will be over.

So far, he's meeting all the demands that have been placed on him.

"What I see is a guy that's really locked in and focused on all aspects here — his academic life, his athletic life, everything," offensive coordinator Steve Addazio said. "I see a happier guy right now. There's no question, you see a change. That's really positive and really good to see.

"All of us are into watching people develop and grow and have an opportunity to overcome, and he's doing that right now and that's exciting."

Rainey has never used his tough upbringing as an excuse, but it is something he has had to overcome.

His mother was in and out of jail on drug convictions. He never had a relationship with his father, who is still in jail. In his last three years at Lakeland High, Rainey lived with Robert and Lisa Webster, the parents of offensive linemen Mike and Maurkice Pouncey.

"With us, he felt like he had a family," Lisa Webster said. "Chris said he wanted what Mike and Maurkice had — a mom and a dad. My boys were raised different than he was. But Chris had to follow the same rules as the boys."

Lisa Webster said Rainey was a good kid who made a huge mistake with his threatening text message.

"If he was a bad kid, he wouldn't have been in my house," she said. "Chris still stays at our house. He still has a key. He's one of our sons. That's the way we treated him.

"He is a good kid who says some dumb stuff. He has a problem with his mouth. That text he sent was some dumb stuff. He did a very bad thing and he was scared. Chris is afraid of the police.

"I talked to him (right after he got out of jail). I told him, 'We support you, we're praying for you, you've got to stop saying stupid stuff.' He regretted it. He knew he'd done a bad thing and he was afraid he wasn't going to get back on the team."

Those who are close to Rainey say he would be lost right now had he not been given a second chance by Meyer and the university.

"All Chris has is football," Mike Pouncey said.

"Football is his girlfriend," Smart said. "He'd be lost without it. It's a blessing that he's been given this second chance."

Lisa Webster said she's told Rainey he can't waste this opportunity.

"He better do right," she said. "I said, 'Chris, this is your last chance. There are no more chances. You need to worry about football and school and not relationships.' He listens to me."

Rainey also listens to his mom. And maybe he can learn a valuable lesson from her.

Despite her difficult time raising seven children while coping with a drug problem and spending time in jail, Valerie Smart has turned her life around. At 48, she is back in school trying to become a residential contractor.

"On June 28, 1999, life caught up with me," Smart said. "That was a good date, a good time to start being free from drugs. You get sick and tired of yourself. That's when I decided I was going straight."

Smart said she's confident her son has turned his life around, too.

"He's doing wonderful," she said. "He's not going to get in any more trouble. I'm proud of Chris. I'm proud of all my babies. They've been blessed. Chris is going to do things the right way."

Contact Robbie Andreu at 352-374-5022 or andreur@gvillesun.com. Also check out Andreu's blog at Gatorsports.com.

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