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Rainey better by leaps and bounds entering sophomore season

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Posted: Thursday, April 10, 2008 12:00 am

For a person known for his fast starts, Chris Rainey had a pretty slow first year at UF.

He tallied one carry, one punt return, a fumble and shoulder surgery in his first season for the Gators, a disappointing follow-up to a high school career that yielded three state titles and plenty of highlights.

He had trouble learning the offense and showing up on time and was criticized for being too small to play running back in the Southeastern Conference.

When he fumbled against Troy, it put him on UF football coach Urban Meyer's naughty list and made his chances of seeing the field even slimmer.

"When I fumbled, (Meyer) was just so mad," Rainey said. "Forever."

Skip ahead a few months, and Meyer describes Rainey as one of the team's most improved players, adding that he's destined for playing time in the fall as a running back.

The credit for the turnaround should probably be sent to an unlikely place: Knoxville, Tenn., where former running backs coach Stan Drayton is now employed with Tennessee.

In October, Drayton confronted Rainey in his dorm about being late to meetings, and he made the freshman come to his office every morning at 6:30 to study the playbook and learn some discipline.

"(Drayton) knew I could do better, and he wanted me to learn the offense because I had some little problems with it," Rainey said. "I hate those morning things. It helped me get up early, which was good because I wasn't used to it. I'm ready now."

When Drayton left for the Volunteers, Kenny Carter took his place and picked up right where his predecessor left off with Rainey. Carter said he researched the Gators before taking the job and that Rainey was one of the players he most desired to coach.

Carter employed the same tactic as Drayton, conducting wake-up calls and checking in on his player in much the same way.

Just as he has for most of the spring, Rainey seemed to turn another corner a few days ago after Carter called to make sure he would be on time for an early-morning workout.

"The next day we had early meetings, and at 6:30 my phone rings and (Rainey) says, 'Good morning, sunshine,'" Carter said. "I see the development in him."

The development has carried over to the field, where Rainey is getting more touches and regaining the swagger he had in high school. He routinely breaks off 60-yard touchdown runs in practice, occasionally beats receiver Percy Harvin in races and has added 30 pounds to his now-5-foot-9, 177-pound frame.

"He's more than just a speed guy now," Carter said. "He can run inside and do the things that you want a back to do. Chris Rainey is a ballplayer. He's a guy that can be a difference-maker, and any time he touches the ball he can go the distance."

After dazzling the coaches and eluding tacklers all spring, Rainey is ready for his coming-out party this Saturday, when a larger audience will watch him play in the Orange and Blue Debut.

"I had to work really hard to get back out there," Rainey said. "They're going to see some stuff like they saw in high school. That's all I can say."

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