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Tuesday, September 20, 2011
Chris Rainey taking flight in final year

By Edward Aschoff

Selfless doesn’t even begin to describe Chris Rainey's football mindset.

The small in stature, yet huge in personality running back at Florida rarely compliments himself about his achievements. He’s easily been Florida’s best player through three games, racking up 520 yards of total offense (averaging 173.3 yards a game) by leading the Gators in both receiving and rushing. He also has four offensive touchdowns and a touchdown on a blocked punt.

Not to mention has a blocked punt of his own, giving him five in his career, which is a Florida and SEC record.

Chris Rainey
Chris Rainey has thrust himself into Heisman Trophy conversation.
When you ask him about his accomplishments, he shrugs them off. He praises his offensive line for creating holes and allowing him to be just the second Gator to record 100-plus receiving and rushing yards in a single game. He thanks quarterback John Brantley for finding him wide open in the middle of the field for what turned into an 83-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown against Tennessee -- the longest catch ever by a Florida running back.

After he scored three touchdowns, three different ways (rushing, receiving, blocked punt) and had an array of video game-like moves in Week 1, Rainey simply gave all the credit to the man upstairs.

“That’s God-given gifts, so I can’t explain that,” said Rainey, his smile shinning from ear to ear. “You gotta ask God."

When you talk to teammates, admiration cascades.

“He’s unbelievable. He’s a freak,” sophomore utility man Trey Burton said. “There’s things he does that not too many people around the world can do. It’s fun blocking for him.

“When he scores, we all score.”

Added Brantley: “Rainey is a special athlete. He’s getting better each week and he’s really bought into all this. He deserves all this.”

But does he deserve more?

When you look at Rainey’s numbers and highlights, he’s one of the most exciting players to watch in the country. He’s slippery in traffic and nearly unstoppable in space. He’s a threat to block punts and break them for scores.

So is it time to consider Rainey as a possible Heisman Trophy candidate? It’s hard to argue against what he’s done, but the defensive talent level hasn’t been elite. Competition aside, Florida coach Will Muschamp wonders if there’s a more versatile player in the country.

“I don’t know,” Muschamp said. “This guy competes every day, comes to work with his hard hat on. He talks a lot, but he doesn’t complain about anything. He works awful hard, he works extremely hard. Playing football, playing at Florida is really important to him and it’s important to me.”

Rainey has been stellar thus far, but he might not be seriously considered unless he puts up similar numbers against dominant defenses, like Alabama and LSU.

Even if he does, will it matter? There is still a major obstacle hanging over Rainey’s head: his infamous text message.

Last season, Rainey foolishly sent his on-again, off-again girlfriend a threatening text message with the words “Time to die” in it. Rainey was suspended for five games by former coach Urban Meyer.

That is the sort of incident that could be held against him by voters.

The jovial Rainey quickly becomes reserved when last year’s arrest for aggravated stalking is mentioned. That boyish smile disappears and his voice gets low, almost to the point of a whisper.

It was a dark time in a life that endured an extremely harsh upbringing, and while Rainey assures he’s not that monster who sent that repulsive text message, he knows he can’t change people’s perception of him.

“I really don’t care,” he said, “they don’t know me.”

All Rainey knows is that he’s happy to be playing football in Gainesville. Whether his name is seriously considered in Heisman conversations isn’t a concern. Sure, he’d be honored, and it’s always been his dream, but he’s more thrilled at a final chance at college football.

If not for a devastating shoulder injury that forced him to redshirt as a freshman, Rainey wouldn’t be here.

For that, he once again thanks someone else.

“I think about that all the time,” he said. “I just want to thank God for that because I would have been gone. I’m still here for one more year -- best thing that ever happened to me. Pro offense, I’m made for it, so I’m glad it happened.”