Toughness Personified

When West Virginia's coaching staff is evaluating prospective recruits, one of the attributes they look for is toughness. In the case of one area athlete, they certainly didn't have to look very hard to find evidence of that trait.

In a game against Upper St. Clair High School last fall, North Hills' Michael Rainey-Wiles took a hit not unlike many others he has absorbed during his career – but this one had much different results.

"I wasn't wearing rib pads, and I just got hit the wrong way," Rainey-Wiles recalled. "I played the rest of the game, and I just thought I got the wind knocked out of me. But that feeling [of being short of breath] never went away. I just kept feeling like that. It ended up that I had a collapsed lung, and I had to go to the hospital and have it reinflated."

Rainey-Wiles detailed the experience without much emotion, but it had to have been a scary episode for anyone, much less an athlete in the prime of health. It was just that characteristic, however, that helped the Pittsburgh native bounce back quickly.

"The doctors said that I shouldn't do much for six months, but I ended up missing just two weeks," he noted proudly. "I am a fast healer, and I think the shape I am in helped me recover too."

Up to the point of his injury, Rainey-Wiles was blazing a bright trail across Pittsburgh-area playing fields. He was averaging 10.5 yards per carry before the game in which he was injured. He did make it back onto the field for a playoff game against Penn-Trafford, but is really looking forward to his senior season this fall, when memories and aftereffects of the uncommon injury are all behind him.

Before he gets back on the practice field in August, Rainey-Wiles has been making trips to those schools showing interest in him. He has visited Toledo, Akron, and West Virginia, and holds an offer from the Zips. However, he was most impressed with his initial visit to check out West Virginia during spring drills.

"It was my first trip, down, and I really liked it. It's a big school. I was really impressed with the weight room and the indoor facilities. But what I really liked was my one-on-one time with the coaches," he continued. "Coach Tony Gibson is my recruiting coach, and I like him. He's very enthusiastic, and he says what is on his mind. I like that a lot."

Rainey-Wiles didn't talk potential positions with West Virginia, but says he isn't concerned with where he might play.

"I've played cornerback and wide receiver as well as running back in high school," he detailed. "I'm just an athlete -- you can play me anywhere. I'll probably play all those positions again this year."

Although he's not the biggest back around (he currently checks in at 5-8 and 160 pounds), Rainey-Wiles has other skills, which offset his smaller stature. An explosive runner with excellent speed and quickness, he earned second team all-conference honors as an all-purpose back as a junior. He couples a 4.5 40-yard dash time with good change of direction ability – all of which makes him a tough target to hit in the open field.

In addition to the schools he has already visited, he has received interest from Georgia Tech, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Kansas State, and Stanford. He plans to attend West Virginia's camp this summer, as well as a Nike Camp on May 6.


Rainey-Wiles has several ties to West Virginia, which could make his decision an easy one if the Mountaineers end up offering a scholarship. He is familiar with Wes Lyons, Eric Wicks and Vaughn Rivers from his high school playing career, and is also good friends with former Mountaineer wide receiver Harvey Smith, who is now a coach at Gateway High School in Pittsburgh. He also has family ties in cousin Verne Howard, an offensive lineman at West Virginia in the late 1980s.

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