NFL comes calling for WKU’s Rainey, Brooks

Senior running back Bobby Rainey charges through the defensive line Nov. 16, 2011, in a game against Troy at Smith Stadium. His performance in that game made him the all-time leading rusher for WKU and gave him the record for the most rushing yards in one season. Rainey was signed as an undrafted free agent on Saturday by the Baltimore Ravens.

Lucas Aulbach

When the third day of the National Football League draft ended without any WKU players picked, Derrius Brooks decided to move on. He didn’t know his call was coming soon.

“Once they finished and picked the last guy in the seventh round, I just went outside and started playing basketball,” he said. “I had to get my mind off it.”

A grim afternoon turned into a happy evening for Brooks and former Topper running back Bobby Rainey, as both signed with teams as undrafted free agents shortly after the draft ended.

Brooks signed with the Cincinnati Bengals while Rainey, WKU’s career and season rushing leader, signed with the Baltimore Ravens.

Both have the opportunity to attend training camps this summer and compete for a spot on a 53-man NFL roster.

Brooks, a cornerback, recorded 33 tackles, 15 assists, four interceptions and one fumble recovery last season. 

He had an idea that the Bengals might want him before the draft. The team first expressed interest in him after Brooks ran a 4.29 40-yard dash at his pro day last month.

He called signing with the Bengals “a dream come true.”

“I’ve always wanted to play in the NFL, and now I’m just one step closer,” Brooks said. “They gave me a free agent contract, so it’s up to me now to go out there and grind hard.”

Rainey also had an idea that the Ravens might be interested in him, mainly because of WKU’s connections with Head Coach John Harbaugh.

He is the son of Jack Harbaugh, who coached the Toppers for 13 years until 2002, when he led WKU to the Division I-AA national championship. The Harbaugh family still has ties to WKU and Head Coach Willie Taggart, was an assistant coach for John’s brother Jim at Stanford for two years.

Rainey said it was John Harbaugh himself who called him on Saturday after he had already been contacted by the Washington Redskins, and he should be right at home in the Baltimore offense.

“Coach Harbaugh has been affiliated with Western for a long time, and they run the same offense that we did here,” he said. “I’m just glad he could give me my chance.”

He came out of the draft with a chip on his shoulder. Rainey said he’s ready to make all of the teams that picked someone over him in the draft regret it.

“I’m excited to get a shot,” Rainey said. “I’m especially glad to get the opportunity to professionally prove everybody wrong who passed on me.”

The Bengals and Ravens are both coming off of productive seasons. Cincinnati went 9-7 last season and made the playoffs for the first time since 2009, while the Ravens were a field goal away from playing in the Super Bowl.

Rainey said he’s excited to make his mark on the Baltimore’s offense.

“I’m very excited to get the opportunity to play in the NFL, period,” he said. “Playing with those guys like [Ravens running back] Ray Rice, I’m ready to get started right now.”

While both have signed contracts, Brooks and Rainey still have to compete this offseason to make the regular-season rosters for their respective teams.

Both will now attend several minicamps and training sessions and endure several roster cuts throughout the summer. They will receive information about where and when the camps are in the coming days.

Should the two make their respective team’s roster, they’ll face each other in Week One of the regular season on Monday Night Football.

Brooks said he’s ready for the cutthroat atmosphere of training camp to start.

“[The Bengals] drafted a lot of good players, but I’m ready to go out there and beat out all those guys. I’m ready to show them what I can do,” he said.