Chris Rainey: "This Feels Like Home"

Every time Chris Rainey looked up Saturday morning he saw Urban Meyer or one of the Florida assistant coaches on the sidelines. He resisted the urge to wave but he definitely felt their presence as he worked out at the Nike combine on the Florida practice fields in the shadow of The Swamp. It wasn't too difficult for him to fast forward in his mind to the fall of 2007 when he'll be working out on these same fields as a Florida Gator.

(See Chris Rainey profile)

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"I saw them [Florida coaches] watching me and it felt good," said Rainey, a 5-9, 160-pound package of speed and slithery moves from Lakeland High School. Earlier in the week he confirmed that he has committed to Meyer and the Gators so as he worked out Saturday, everything had a special feeling to it.

"This feels like home now," he said. "Right here is where I'm going to be practicing and over there [looking at The Swamp] is where I'm going to play on Saturdays. This is the place I always wanted to be."

Rainey will be bringing his brand of electricity to The Swamp. He's the catalyst of Lakeland's high-powered offensive machine that has steamrolled 30 consecutive opponents en route to two straight state championships and the 2005 USAToday national championship. As a sophomore Rainey ran for 1,780 yards and 28 touchdowns. He followed that up with 1,571 yards and 26 touchdowns as a junior.

He had shoulder surgery a few months ago so he wasn't able to participate in any contact drills this spring although he has run at a combine in Boca Raton last week and again at the Nike combine at the University of Florida this week. His doctor took a look at the shoulder Thursday and declared him 100 percent fit and ready to play football again.

Rainey blazed a 4.37 in the 40 last week but was clocked at only 4.5 Saturday at the Nike combine.

"I slipped a little when I started so I was really slow today," he said, shaking his head in disgust. "I got a 4.5. Can you believe that? I don't run 4.5 40s. I'm a 4.3 man and I'm going to get that down to 4.2-something. I guarantee you I'll get it down there."

He's not just a speed guy, though. He knows that once he gets a step there aren't too many people fast enough to catch him. Running fast, he'll tell you, is fun but it can get boring. What holds his attention and makes football fun for Chris Rainey is making moves that can't be duplicated. When he has the football, he ducks. He dodges. He gives a shoulder and then takes it away. The hips seem to go one way and the rest of his body the other. It's as if he is made of 1,000 moving parts and all of them are held together by elastic.

Put the football in his hands and things just happen. He says he sees things before they actually open up. He just looks in a certain direction and then his feet just take him there, all without thinking.

"I think my feet have a mind of their own," he said. "I just see things and my feet do the rest. I don't have to think about what I'm going to do or where I'm going. I just do it somehow and sometimes after I score a touchdown or make somebody miss me I wonder how I did that?"

It's making people miss that has made Chris Rainey somewhat of a high school legend even before his high school career is finished. Teammates like defensive back Ahmad Black say that ever since they can remember, nobody's been able to get a clean shot on Rainey.

"People just miss him and they always have," said Black, a 5-11, 175-pound corner who says he's been offered by Florida. "You see these guys ready to tackle him and you know they're going to get him but then they miss and Chris is already by them, setting up the next guy. Nobody ever hits him hard. They just miss."

That uncanny ability to set up defenders and make them look silly is why Rainey had scholarship offers from more schools than he can count. Rainey says he was offered a scholarship by Florida more than a year ago and that's where he wanted to go all along. He decided to put all the speculation and recruiting pressure behind him early. More than a week ago, he called Urban Meyer to tell him he was going to be a Gator.

The University of Florida was always Rainey's favorite when he was growing up but when Meyer became the Florida coach, bringing in his spread option offense with all the opportunities to get the ball to skill players in open space, it was a match made in heaven for a do-it-all back. Rainey can already see himself lining up at tailback or in the slot or at wide receiver.

"I'm going to be just like Reggie Bush only better," said Rainey. "I'll be all over the field, doing all kinds of things with the ball. That's how they want to use me. I told them all I want to do is play and they said they'll find ways to get me the ball."

He's already qualified academically for Division I and he could graduate at mid-year to make it to Florida in time for spring practice but that's a decision he's not ready to make quite yet.

"I've been talking to a lot of my friends who are seniors and I see all the senior only activities they get to do," he said. "I don't know if I want to miss out on all that. You only get to be a senior in high school once in your life and doing all the activities with your friends who you've known since you're little is something I'm not sure I want to miss out on."

He'll be at the Florida football camp this summer and maybe a couple of others. He's planning to run on the AAU track circuit, too. He's convinced that the work he can do on the track this summer will not only make him faster for high school football in the fall but it will also prepare him for a run at the state 100-meter dash championship in the spring.

"I want to go out winning the state 100 championship," he said. "That's one of my goals and another reason I think I'd like to stick around for my full senior year."

He wants to go out with three straight state championships and two national championships in football, too. In the fall, he'll be plying his trade, using his speed to blow by everyone on one play and then making half the defensive team look silly trying to bottle him up on the next.

"I love challenges and that's why football is fun," he said. "I love to make people miss and I love to out run them. Someday someone might stop me one-on-one but not now. Sometimes it all seems too easy and that's why I know I need to get on to that next level where the challenges will be tougher every day in practice and in games. I feel like I'm ready for the college level now. I need the extra challenges."

And he will be facing those challenges as a Gator.

"It's what I always wanted to be," he said.

COMBINE NOTES: About 400 kids participated in the Saturday combine. Athletes from as far away as Washington, Minnesota, Illinois and New Mexico were on hand to show their stuff for what seemed like a coaching convention on the sidelines. Among the college head coaches on hand were Meyer, Charlie Weiss of Notre Dame, Ed Orgeron of Ole Miss and Ralph Friedgen of Maryland.

Florida assistants Greg Mattison, John Hevesy, Billy Gonzales, Dan Mullen and Doc Holliday were there. Assistants from Alabama, Auburn, Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee, LSU, Kentucky, West Virginia, Texas, South Florida, UConn, Cincinnati, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Purdue, UNLV, Marshall, Missouri and Nebraska were there along with dozens of others.

Former Gators attending were: Noah Brindise (offensive coordinator UNLV); Jim Collins (defensive coordinator, Marshall); John Hunt (offensive line, South Carolina); Dwayne Dixon (wide receivers, North Carolina State); Bubba Spurrier (wide receivers, South Carolina); Robert Gillespie (running backs, South Carolina); Dan Disch (wide receivers, Illinois); Mike Locksley (offensive coordinator, Illinois); Bill Miller (defensive coordinator, Arizona State) and Ed Zaunbrecher (quarterbacks, Purdue).

Some of the Florida football players that showed up to watch were quarterback Chris Leak, linebacker Earl Everett, running backs DeShawn Wynn and Kestahn Moore, wide receiver Louis Murphy and offensive linemen Carl Johnson and Maurice Hurt. Murphy was on crutches. He had his hip cleaned out but will be back off crutches in two weeks and full speed in six weeks. Johnson, who showed up at Florida in January at 365, is a svelte 329 now and says that he'll be down around 320 when August drills begin.

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