By Christina Rivers
Full name: Chris Rainey, RB #22
Hometown: Lakeland, FL
High School: Lakeland High School
With so many offensive weapons on the Pittsburgh Steelers’ team, Chris Rainey was a ‘sleeper pick’ in the 2012 NFL Draft. Selected in the fifth round by the Steelers, Rainey didn’t remain silent for long. He certainly made plenty of statements in high school and college. And now that he’s with the Steelers, he’s expected to get even more exposure, especially for his ability to ramble for yardage out of the offensive backfield and during kick returns.
Born in Lakeland, Florida, Rainey was raised in part by a single mom and his grandmother. While his early years were sometimes hard for the young man, his life changed when we moved in with Lisa and Rob Webster early in high school. The Websters had twin sons, Maurkice and Mike Pouncey. All three boys played high school at Lakeland High School, and the Websters considered Rainey to be one of the kids. Lisa Webster said that Rainey was a frequent visitor on weekends and that one day, “He came over for Thanksgiving, he just kept spending the night…one day he said, ‘Can I stay with ya’ll?’ After the Websters talked and set down rules, Rainey became a permanent part of their family.
During his high school years, Rainey became a standout at the running back position for the Lakeland Dreadnaughts with the Pouncey brothers. In 2006, his senior year, Rainey led the team with 2,478 yards and rushed for 32 touchdowns. Fifteen of those touchdown runs went for 50-yards or more. 2006 was the third consecutive season in which the Dreadnaughts became Florida Class 5A state champions. It was also the second straight USA Today national championship season. Rainey had a prep career that many would envy, posting 90 touchdowns and more than 7,000 all-purpose yards. He was named a U.S. Army high school All-American and was an all-state selection by the Florida Sports Writers Association.
The Webster’s boys were decisive in attending the University of Florida (Gainesville). Under the tutelage of coaches Urban Meyer (2005-2010) and Will Muscamp (2010- present), Rainey, a scholarship awardee, saw leadership. In 2007, the true freshman received a shoulder injury that resulted in him being red-shirted. Bouncing back in 2008, Rainey thrived in the spread offense. With players like Tim Tebow, Percy Harvin, Cam Newton, Brandon Spikes, and the Pouncey brothers, the Florida Gators were packed with talent. In 2008, Rainey played in 14 games, carrying the ball 84 times for 652 yards and four touchdowns. He also had three receptions for 37 yards and his all-purpose yards total for the season was 695; his best game facing the LSU Tigers (144 yards). The Gators won the 2008 SEC Championship and the 2009 BCS National Championship Game.
For his college career, Rainey played in 52 games and amassed 2,464 yards and 13 touchdowns on 396 rushing attempts. He added 69 receptions for 795 yards and six touchdowns as well as returning 18 kickoffs for 454 return yards. Rainey holds the team record at Florida for blocked kicks with four, two of which occurred in 2010. He blocked and recovered a punt in 2009 against the Kentucky Wildcats and returned it 23 yards for a touchdown. Rainey is a member of the 2,000 yard club as well. He was recognized by his teammates at the team’s most valuable player following the 2011 season.
Rainey also earned honors in track and field. As a freshman, Rainey earned an All-American honor by leading off the Gators’ third-place 4x100m relay at the 2008 NCAA Outdoor Championships. He also placed 20th in the 100m race with a time of 39.59. He earned an outdoor best in the 100m with a time of 10.66 seconds at the Mississippi Open in Oxford. There Rainey also opened in the 4x100m with a time of 39.59 seconds, a third-place victory for the Gators. His NCAA showing earned him All-American honors. He once again received All-American honors as a junior for helping win the Gators men’s 4x100m relay at the NCAA Championships. The relay team included Rainey, Jeremy Hall, Terrell Wilks and Jeff Demps and resulted in a first-place finish of 39.04 seconds.
On the day of the 2012 NFL Draft, everyone was gathered together at the Webster home. Lisa Webster remembers the day. “We were all at our house when the Steelers called. His mom, grandma, lot of brothers, couple of sisters,” she recalled. Former XFL, CFL and NFL running back Rod “He Hate Me” Smart is an older brother of Rainey. In 2011, they’d been elated as Maurkice (Pouncey) had been selected by the Steelers and were just as happy when Rainey got the call to join him in 2012. Hoping for a three-peat, brother Mike was selected by the Miami Dolphins that same year. Despite the distance, the three have remained brothers in heart and brothers on the field.
Considered by many as one of the best athletes in the 2012 NFL draft, the Steelers got a steal in Rainey. Brain White, the running backs coach at Florida agreed. “He’s an incredibly infectious guy,” White said. “He loves football and he really is an electric athlete. I’ve never been around anyone who can change direction and accelerate like him.” White also coached Heisman Trophy winner Ron Dayne while at Wisconsin and said, “Chris doesn’t take a lot of full-contact hits, he has a sixth sense. He takes glancing blows, not direct hits…he’s extremely durable.”
Rainey was the only player to win three different events at the 2012 Scouting Combine. He posted 11.06 seconds in the 60-yard shuttle, 3.93 seconds in the 20-yard shuttle and 6.50 seconds in the three-cone drill. Offensive coordinator Todd Haley said of Rainey, “We’re excited about getting an explosive, fast player with some of those skills in the building.”
Rainey’s only off-field issue happened when he was dating an older girlfriend that had broken up with him. Known for being a non-drinker and non-smoker, basically a clean-cut standup guy, Rainey’s text read, “Time to die.” While the ex-girlfriend did not call police, her sister did. Rainey was in deep and faced charges of stalking. Rainey pled out, performing ten hours of community service and undergoing anger-management classes. It also required him to serve six months of probation from legal incidents.
Lisa Webster explained the incident in this manner, “People say stupid stuff when they get in arguments…(he) texted it…I told him I’d drive to Gainesville and beat him if he called her again.” According to Webster, the other boys called Rainey as well. “We know he wouldn’t do anything like that, he was just mad at the time.”
Since that incident, Rainey has remained squeaky clean and been taken under the wing of Pouncey (Maurkice) and the receivers of the Steelers. Rainey admits that the best advice Pouncey has given him is, “Be who you are and play like you have been playing your whole life.” The best advice he has been given in life, “Stay humble and it will come to you.” Rainey credits Emmit Smith, Reggie Bush, Barry Sanders, Bo Jackson, Jim Brown and Walter Payton as his favorite NFL players when he was growing up.
For more Local Football Bloggers and the latest Steelers news, see CBS Sports Pittsburgh.
Christina Rivers is freelance journalist and photographer with a life-long love of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Credentialed with the organization, Christina provides a unique perspective gained through her knowledge and understanding of Steelers history, the Rooney family and relationships with past and present players. Her work can be found on Examiner.com.