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Teen athlete inspires Tim Tebow

It's nothing new when a young athlete says he's inspired by New York Jets quarterback Tim Tebow. But how often does a young athlete inspire Tebow?

Meet Jacob Rainey. Tebow did on Christmas Eve of 2011, and it was a moment that made a lasting impact on both of them.

"Being able to be with him and hang out with him and see his courage and his outlook on life really inspired me," Tebow told ESPN's "E:60."

The inspiration was mutual.

"I thought that was pretty special. It shows that he cares," Rainey said.

Rainey was a highly rated high school quarterback playing for Woodberry Forest, a private all-boys boarding school in central Virginia. Coaches compared Rainey to Tebow. He even ran a 4.6 40-yard dash at Virginia Tech during a 2011 camp visit. But Rainey's dreams of playing in the NFL were shattered during a scrimmage before his junior season when, on Sept. 3, 2011, he scrambled out of the pocket. Even though it was just a scrimmage, Rainey, like always, did whatever he could to avoid being tackled.

"I took off to the left and I cut back, and right when I cut back there was a guy right there at my knee," Rainey said. "I just blacked out and fell to the ground. I looked down and my leg was sticking out sideways."

Rainey suffered a dislocated right knee, but while he was hospitalized the news got far worse. An artery in his lower right leg had been severed, cutting off circulation. Over the next week, Rainey underwent four surgeries as doctors tried to save his leg. They were unsuccessful.

"I just kind of broke down because I didn't think that was possible," Rainey said. "I didn't think you could lose your leg playing football."

A week after Rainey was tackled on a routine play, doctors amputated his right leg above the knee.

"After the procedure and I saw it, that is when it really hit me. I just broke down and cried," Rainey said. "I was just like, 'I don't know how I'm going to come back from this.'"

As word of Rainey's ordeal spread, he was inundated with letters and gifts from well-wishers, including Alabama football coach Nick Saban, Green Bay Packers linebacker Clay Matthews and Tebow, who was quarterback for the Denver Broncos at the time.

"It's hard for me to even imagine something like that," Tebow said. "For Jacob working for something so hard and having a dream being so close to coming true, then falling short, is something that is very tough to deal with.

"I heard what he went through, everything he was going through at the time. I said, 'Let's find a way to be able to encourage him.'"

Tebow reached out to Rainey and wanted to meet in person. On Dec. 24, Rainey, along with his father and older brother, attended the Broncos' game in Buffalo as Tebow's guests.

"He came to the Buffalo game last year and I got to spend time with him before the game and it was great," Tebow said. "The first thing, I just ran up and gave him a big hug."

The interaction with Tebow inspired Rainey.

"He's a very sincere person," Rainey said. "He believes everything he says. It's probably half an hour before kickoff, and he's over on the sideline talking to some kid that he doesn't even know. He just told me to keep fighting and just never give up. It always could be worse. There is no point in giving up."

That day, Tebow threw one touchdown and three interceptions in a 40-14 loss to the Bills, but he met again with the Rainey clan afterward.

"It wasn't a great feeling," Tebow said. "But leaving that game and being able to go see Jacob and talk to him and his family, and it truly for me put everything into perspective."

Rainey still wanted to play football and was encouraged by his meeting with Tebow. In January, Rainey threw a football while wearing a prosthetic leg for the first time.

Over the next few months, Rainey tried out several prosthetic legs that didn't translate to the football field. Then he used a motor-knee used by snowboarders and motocross racers. It worked, and Rainey was back in action for his senior season.

"It doesn't matter what happens when that game starts, he's already won the battle," Tebow, who now plays for the New York Jets, told "E:60" seven days before Rainey's first start since the injury.

On Sept. 7, Rainey was Woodberry Forest's team captain and starting quarterback in the season opener against Benedictine.

"Before the game I was like, 'I don't know how this is going to go. This is the most nervous I've ever been in my life,'" Rainey said.

That day, Tebow sent this text message to Rainey:

"Hey Jacob, this is tebow. Would love to catch up sometime. Been hearing a lot of great stuff about u!!! I know tonight is a big night so congrats! I'm praying for u and here if u ever need anything! Stay blessed my friend!"

On Woodberry Forest's first drive, Rainey led his team down the field for a touchdown. Two games later, Rainey threw his first touchdown pass of the season. Tebow and Rainey swapped texts after the game.

"It's awe-inspiring," Tebow said. "It's something that I think can be an inspiration to people all over the country."

Ben Houser is a senior producer for ESPN's "E:60."