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Rainey becomes star of show at spring game

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Posted: Monday, April 14, 2008 12:00 am

Welcome back, Chris Rainey.

Many fans may not remember the redshirt freshman who played in just five games last fall, and those who do have frustrating memories of costly penalties and fumbles before a shoulder injury that required surgery sidelined him for the rest of the season.

He wasn't missed by many. That changed Saturday.

Rainey became this year's star in the annual spring scrimmage, finishing with 140 total yards and two touchdowns to lead the Blue team past the Orange, 28-14.

"I thought he would do that, and he did that," coach Urban Meyer said. "If we get him to 185 (pounds), that could be a really good running back.

"Chris is going to start. I don't know if it's tailback or No. 3 receiver … but he'll certainly play and be on the field a lot in the fall."

But in a game where numbers don't have too much significance, the 5-foot-9, 177-pound tailback dazzled the estimated 61,000 fans in attendance along with the ESPN national television audience.

"He's very impressive," Tim Tebow said. "It's not like it was anything new to us. I think it was to all the fans, but we saw it every day in spring ball. He's just an electric player."

It was College GameDay's first appearance at a spring game. Rainey decided to make SportsCenter as well.

In the Fastest Gator on Campus race held prior to the game, he initially drew boos when he didn't leave the starting line after misunderstanding the starting instructions. Then he ran the 40 yards by himself, finishing in 4.27 seconds. A re-do was called, and Rainey finally got a chance to race the five students.

So he ran faster, clocking a 4.24.

"My goal was going for 4.1," Rainey deadpanned. "I'm still trying to get it."

While timing may not have been as official as the NFL Combine, it's worth noting that such a mark would have tied for the fastest among all players at the pre-draft workout, matching former East Carolina running back Chris Johnson.

In other words, it was just plain fast. But that had been known for a while. The question was how it would translate to play on the field.

Rainey gave an answer that will stay in fans' minds all summer.

The Blue squad got the ball first, starting on its own 35-yard line. Rainey had four carries for 41 yards, and the drive ended with a Mon Williams 9-yard touchdown run.

Two drives later, he lined up wide to the left and caught a long pass from Tebow over his shoulder near the sideline, leaving former high school teammate Ahmad Black standing between him and the end zone.

With two ankle-breaking cuts, Black was on the ground, Rainey had a 65-yard receiving touchdown and Saturday night's SportsCenter had its No. 9 Top Play.

"I knew he was mad when I juked him because he knows what kind of juke I do, so that's what he was looking for," Rainey said. "So I had to change it up on him."

By halftime, Rainey had finalized his stat line.

Meanwhile, the man who was supposed to be UF's answer at running back, Southern Cal transfer Emmanuel Moody, had just 2 total yards after sitting out the first quarter and having just one short reception and one carry before halftime.

After halftime, Moody, playing for the Orange team, took the ball four straight times and marched the 65 yards to the end zone. Only one problem - on the fourth rush as Moody dove for the end zone, he was met by defenders hitting him from both sides. The ball came out, and the sophomore's 111 rushing yards on 14 carries were all but wiped out in Meyer's mind.

"That run before he got hit in the end zone was an excellent run," Meyer said. "He's got talent. But there's no chance you'll see him play … if there's a chance it's going on the ground."

Tebow played despite fighting illness, including a 102-degree temperature Friday night. He suffered through to finish with 200 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions on 13-of-21 passing.

But for one day, Tebow was upstaged by a teammate, and Rainey couldn't be happier after his rocky first year in Gainesville.

"That's all my friends were talking about - getting penalties," Rainey said. "Everybody was talking about the fumbles. I couldn't let that happen anymore."

Welcome to the discussion.