WKU’s Rainey looking to improve on record-setting season

Senior running back Bobby Rainey will look to improve upon a 2010 season in which he rushed for 1,649 yards and 15 touchdowns. Rainey was named to three postseason award watch lists, most notably the Maxwell Award, given annually to the nation’s most outstanding all-around player.

Brad Stephens

He had the power and balance to run between the tackles.

He had the acceleration and straight-ahead speed to break big runs on the outside.

He had the soft hands to be second on the team in receptions.

And he even threw a touchdown pass.

Simply put, Bobby Rainey was often a one-man offense for WKU in 2010.

Junior quarterback Kawaun Jakes said he expects the senior running back to be just as good in 2011.

“Bobby’s like a golden ticket,” Jakes said. “Just give it to him and watch him go. When you hand off the ball to him you know he can take it the distance.”

Rainey showed flashes of his potential during his freshman and sophomore seasons, averaging 6.4 yards per carry.

He then broke onto the national scene in 2010 during his junior season, gaining 1,649 yards and scoring 15 touchdowns.

Rainey also led the Football Bowl Subdivision with 340 carries — a school record.

For his efforts, he was named the Sun Belt Conference Offensive Player of the Year.

But Rainey said he wouldn’t be satisfied with putting up the same numbers in 2011.

He has even tossed around the goal of a 2,000-yard season — a golden mark for running backs and a total that would shatter Joe Arnold’s single-season school rushing record by more than 300 yards.

“You’re either getting better or you’re not,” Rainey said. “No one stays the same, so my goal is to do better than I did last year.”

The WKU coaching staff has made every effort to keep Rainey, along with junior tight end Jack Doyle and junior wide receiver Marcus Vasquez, healthy going into the season, by giving them the yellow “non-contact” jersey to wear during fall camp. 

It was the second consecutive season that Rainey got the protective treatment. Head Coach Willie Taggart said Rainey, and the other two, would rid themselves of the yellow jerseys if they had it their way.

“Those guys hate (wearing the yellow jerseys),” Head Coach Willie Taggart said. “But I tell them, ‘You’ve just got to deal with it. Just understand — those guys are going to talk to you now and make you competitive and fired up, but we need you to be healthy come Sept. 1 and many weeks after that.’”

Taggart and his staff have recruited some players who can come in and spell Rainey for a few plays each game.

Sophomores Antonio Andrews and Keshawn Simpson, as well as freshmen Quartterrio Morgan, John Evans and Marquis Sumler all competed throughout fall camp for a backup role.

Andrews, who is expected to play a hybrid running back/receiver role this season, praised Rainey’s efforts in teaching WKU’s younger running backs how to follow in his footsteps.

“Bobby’s work ethic is just ridiculous,” Andrews said. “Bobby is the one person that loves to work and knows how to get his.

“He’s been a good mentor and a good role model. I respect him and everything he does.”

Taggart agreed and said that if WKU is to improve upon a 2-10 record from a season ago, the young backs under Rainey’s tutelage must contribute.

“If Bobby will just be Bobby, he’ll be big for us,” Taggart said at WKU’s Media Day. “And if Bobby could get his teammates to help him out a little bit, then that’ll be even better.”

Rainey said he learned in 2010 how to shoulder the offensive load by leading the team in game preparation and on-field performance.

“I learned how to make everyone around me better and on the same page, execute and not hurt ourselves,” Rainey said. “That’s my job and I want to continue to do that.”

With running backs such as Andrews, Morgan and Sumler to take some of the load off Rainey, it’s unlikely he will top his 340 carries this season.

But should he get those chances again, Rainey said he’ll take advantage.

“I don’t really expect to have that same amount of carries, but I want to come out with those same numbers,” Rainey said. “But if carrying the ball the same number of times is what it takes, then that’s what it takes.”