COMBINE: Call It The Chris Rainey Show

BOCA RATON --- The practice fields at Florida Atlantic University were soft and spongy, not exactly the ideal setup for guys with speed and darting moves. Players were slipping and sliding all day long at the All-American Combine so it really wasn't a big surprise when Chris Rainey almost went to his knees at the start of his first 40-yard dash run. He could have held up a hand and asked for a re-start. No one would have minded but instead he scrambled to his feet and kept going.

(See Chris Rainey profile)

This is what separates those once in a blue moon types from the ranks of the very good athletes. Rainey, the mercurial tailback from Lakeland, regained full stride in perhaps two steps and simply turned on the jets, crossing the finish line with a very impressive 4.5 that was caught on several watches.

When he got his second run, this time into the wind, he didn't slip on the start, finishing with another impressive time, this one 4.37.

"The first time, I just got to my feet and thought I better really push myself," said Rainey, a catch me if you can type of scatback that has racked up more than 3200 yards for a better than 10-yard per carry average while leading Lakeland to two straight undefeated state championship seasons. "I kind of fell a little bit on the start and I just reacted the way I do in a football game and I got my balance and then ran fast as I can."

He had a similar experience the first time he ran the L-cone shuttle. He slipped on torn up turf three times yet still turned in a very fast 7.29. When the course was readjusted onto good turf, he turned in a 6.50, which tied him for the best time of the day.

The combination of speed, agility, balance and dazzling moves is what has had college scouts drooling since he burst on the scene as a sophomore. Even though he's not exactly the biggest guy in the world --- 5-8 and 159 pounds --- size rarely is a factor since he's so hard to catch and when he does get caught no one, it seems, ever gets to unload.

Typically, when Chris Rainey gets the football in his hands, a minimum of two or three defenders are going to look silly trying to tackle him. He turns simple handoffs into human highlight reel plays. Over the past two years, more linebackers and defensive backs than he can count have had him set up for the big hit only to wind up face first on the turf with nothing to show for their efforts. There are easier ways to make a living than trying to tackle Rainey.

He has the quick feet of a dancer and a thousand rubber knee, no-backbone moves that turn a toss sweep into his personal game of "tag, you're it," only Chris is never it. When he gets the ball, the play typically has only three endings: (1) touchdown; (2) there's nowhere else to go so he skips out of bounds; or (3) after making half the defensive team look silly he's finally surrounded by whatever's left and there are just too many to escape.

He says there is a good reason why he's so tough to catch.

"If they can't catch you they can't hit you and if they can't hit you they can't hurt you," he said. "Making people miss is what makes football fun. I love to make a big play any time but it's more fun if you make a few guys miss."

He's made so many people miss in his career at Lakeland that every big time school in the country is overlooking his lack of size. He is the X-factor, the game breaker that is a defensive coordinator's nightmare, a back capable of turning any four-yard run into an 80-yard adventure.

That's why coaches from Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Auburn, LSU and Alabama from the Southeastern Conference were at the Saturday combine. There were plenty of other high school studs there --- like defensive tackles Torrey Davis of Seffner Armwood and Ian Williams of Longwood Lyman, for example --- but when Rainey ran or did his thing in one-on-one drills, he commanded plenty of attention.

"He's the kind of kid that can run a 4.5 in any direction," said's chief recruiting analyst Scott Kennedy. "I think he's getting faster, too. I think we'll be able to say about him that he can go 4.4 in any direction. He's so elusive and so quick. He's a unique talent."

The younger brother of Rod (He Hate Me) Smart, formerly of the Carolina Panthers and now with the Oakland Raiders, Rainey has qualifying scores on his tests and needs only to maintain his present pace in the classroom to play Division I football in 2007.

"I could graduate early if I want to but I'm not sure that's what I want to do," he said. "I didn't get to run track this year because I was hurt and I'd like to see if I can win the state 100 championship."

He intends to run track when he's in college too because he says it helps him get faster. He will spend part of his summer in camps like the one that Coach Urban Meyer runs at the University of Florida, but he will be running track at several AAU meets as well.

"My goal is to get faster and faster," he said. "I can help my team more if I'm faster and can make more big plays."

Lakeland is the defending national high school champion. The Dreadnaughts will be going for their third straight undefeated season and their third straight state championship in the fall. Rainey isn't the only top prospect on this team coached by Bill Castle. The Dreadnaughts have one of the nation's top defensive line prospects in John Brown and on the offensive line, the Pouncey twins, James and LeShawn, have some of the top colleges in the nation offering scholarships. Wide receiver Paul Wilson has great hands and moves, too, and he'll have his choice of where to sign.

But it is Rainey that is the one that drives defensive coordinators crazy because he can beat a defense so many ways. His speed and elusiveness make him a threat to go the distance any time he touches the ball and Castle and his staff keep finding ways to get him the ball in open space where he can use his moves to get deep into the secondary. Despite his lack of size, he's a surprisingly tough runner between the tackles.

It is as a receiver that many envision him at the next level but if you ask Chris Rainey where he wants to play his answer is simple.

"Somewhere on the football field," he says. "Just let me play. That's all. Let me play and let me get the ball so I can help my team win games. I want to do anything I can to help the team win. I'll play receiver, running back … any place they want me to play. All I want to do is play."

He hasn't decided if he will make an early commitment sometime during the summer or if he will take recruiting visits in the fall. A lot of the recruiting process won't be necessary because he's pretty much locked in on three schools.

"I love the Florida Gators," he said. "They're the team I grew up loving and I still love them, especially because of Coach Meyer. Texas is my second favorite team and they've been my second favorite team a long time. I like the way they play. My third favorite is USC. I love them because of Reggie Bush. He stole some of my moves, you know.

"Those are really the only ones that I'm thinking about. A lot of schools are interested and maybe someone else will look good to me, but I think it's pretty much those three and that's it."

If he has one goal this summer, other than getting faster, it's to find a way to gain some weight.

"I've been trying for three years to gain weight," he said. "I eat all the time. James and LeShawn (Pouncey, both 6-4, 285-ish types) say they can't keep up with me. They say I eat more than they do. I don't know if that's true. They can put away some groceries, but I know I eat a lot. I guess I just run it off."

Asked what would make 2006 a total success, he said, "A third straight state championship would be a good start and then another national championship. After that, getting a scholarship to play football somewhere."

Somewhere could very well be Gainesville when all is said and done.

"I think that Florida will be hard to beat," he said. "I think they'll be very hard to beat."

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