Scout.com Q&A With Wali Rainer

LB and special teams star Wali Rainer attacked his rehab from a broken ankle with the same tenacious attitude he brings to the football field. An unrestricted free agent this March, Rainer talks about his NFL experiences, what he'll bring to the team who signs him and more in this exclusive interview.

ET: You were a leading tackler for the Lions on special teams for three years. Why do you think you're so successful as a special teams player?

WR: Every year that I started as a linebacker during my first four seasons, I was a leading tackler on the team. When I got to the Lions, they had a different role in mind for me.  I always wanted to be the best at whatever I played, whether it was special teams or starting at linebacker.  I always wanted to have the most tackles, the most plays on the ball, so when I played with the Lions on special teams I made sure that I was trying to be in on every tackle and physically try to punish the ball carrier.

ET: You've been described as having a tireless work ethic. Where does that come from?

WR: A lot of the guys who made it to the NFL are from inner-city neighborhoods.   You don't have a lot of material things, you go through a lot of hardships. One guy that I saw this in a lot was my father; he worked three jobs, two full-time and a part-time job, and he worked those just to feed his family. That's just one aspect I've gotten from him; working and living to work to feed my family. But at the same time, I've been playing football since I was five years old. And it's opened up a lot of different opportunities for me. I realize how blessed I am to be playing in the NFL so I give it my all everyday.

ET:  You broke your left ankle during training camp with the Texans last summer. Have you attacked your rehab with that same work ethic?

WR: Definitely.  I attacked that just like I attack everything -- full speed ahead. It's been going really well.

ET: Will you be in good shape to work out for some teams in March when you become an unrestricted free agent?

WR: Definitely. I'm running and I've been doing all the agility drills since December.  And I'm doing everything to get myself back into football shape. I'm going to do whatever possible to get back onto the field. I know my ability. I'm able to stay in games, I'm able to play all of the special teams, I know all the linebacker positions. Whatever you need me to do, I definitely know what I can contribute to a team.

ET: Who else showed interest in you last year when you were a free agent that could circle back with you this year?

WR:  I talked to a couple different teams. Some were 3-4 teams, the Steelers, the New York Giants. And in the end it was basically between the New York Giants and the Texans.

ET: Was the Giants' interest fueled at all by the fact that you've worked for Tom Coughlin before down in Jacksonville?

WR:  I think so.  Coach Coughlin knows my work ethic and knows how I play football. He knows my heart and knows I'm going to give one hundred percent in practice. It's just my way to be physical in everything -- practice as well as the game.

(Getty Images/Tom Pidgeon)
ET: How much of an advantage does seven years of playing experience give you in free agency?

WR:  It's given me a lot of experience at different positions and a better knowledge of the game of football in general, so that's an advantage. Some guys are only one-position players, so being able to play a lot of spots is a big edge. I'm not a selfish player, so I think all of those attributes build up to the type of guy that you look for to help your team.

ET: For teams that are looking for a player to fill a specific role or spot, what are some of your best skills that will stand out to them when they watch film of you in action?

WR: I think the main thing is that I'm a very aggressive and physical linebacker. I hit at the point of attack and show no mercy. I think a team that's looking for a guy who can step in and get to the point of attack and stop the run, I'm definitely one of those guys.

ET: Off the field you're more of an introspective guy who likes to read books and is very community oriented. How do you find that intensity on the field when you're off-the-field personality seems to be so far in the opposite direction?

WR: I think it's just part of the balance. Football is a very high contact sport, a very emotional sport and I've given it all I can since I was young. Every emotion, every negative aspect of my life -- growing up in the neighborhood I lived in, losing the friends that I lost, being in different circumstances than what I have now -- I look at them and that's the way I go through football. That's the way I attack it and I give it everything I've got.  Off the field I find the balance through trying to help unfortunate people. I'm a humble guy, I know where I came from, so seeing other people going through hardships, I just try to help them in any way I can. That's what this life's about whether it's educating someone or just trying to help someone. That's definitely something I'm always going to do.

ET: You've won lots of awards for your community service and charitable work. How much does that mean to you personally, getting recognition and knowing that you're touching people's lives versus what you do out there on the football field?

WR: The main thing for me is not the recognition, just helping the people makes me feel good. Before I got into the NFL I was somewhat cold-hearted. A lot of times when you grow up in this type of environment it makes you cold-hearted. But once I was able to get some of the things I thought would make me happy and they didn't make me happy, I started doing the charity work for people of all different ages and races. Now I've devoted my life to it and I just do it regardless of whether I'm playing football or not. And I try to teach other people to go out and do the same thing. I think the recognition is a nice, but sometimes you feel like you shouldn't get recognized for something that you just really ought to be doing as a person.

ET: Share what you've learned so far from each team you've played for that has helped make you the player you are today. Let's start with the Cleveland Browns.

WR: While I was with the Browns, it was mainly learning the basics of the NFL.  Learning how to study the game and understand the game at the pro level. I learned from a lot of good players while I was there.

ET: How about during your time with the Jacksonville Jaguars?

WR: I definitely learned that the NFL is not made up of one type of coach. Coach Coughlin was different than Chris Palmer, even in the way he goes about practice. I also learned that in the NFL you're so close every time. While I was playing in Cleveland, we didn't win many games.  But with the Jaguars we won a lot more games, but we were in close games so many times. And I just realized that you've got to make just a few extra plays in a game, because so many of them end up so close.

ET: How about Detroit?

WR: The thing I learned while in Detroit was that people need you to help them win in different ways. Coming into a system like Steve Mariucci's, it was a system of West-Coast style of linebackers and I learned to adapt to that. And I learned how to make an even bigger impact on special teams. I also spent more time helping the younger guys, helping to educate them.

ET: What else should NFL teams and fans know about you as a person or a player?

WR: I think the main thing is that my family -- my two sons, my daughter and my wife -- are an important part of my life. And I'm an all-out guy. I go through life all-out and the game of football is like life to me. I love it. It's a passion to me and I know the fans can tell which guys have a passion for the game. I'm definitely one of those guys.

A member of the Professional Football Writers of America, Ed Thompson's NFL and college football player interviews have been published across the Scout.com network and syndicated through FoxSports.com's NFL team pages.


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