Rainey embracing leadership role with WKU football team

Junior running back Bobby Rainey rushed for 939 yards on 144 carries in 2009, and he’s looking for more as WKU’s No. 1 back entering the 2010 season. “Just give me the ball,” Rainey said. “As long as I produce when I have the ball, just keep giving it to me until I stop producing.”

Zach Greenwell

Junior running back Bobby Rainey has never had to be “the guy” for WKU before.

Sure, he’s had the best numbers on a given night. But the brunt of the offensive burden has never been on his shoulders.

That all changes when Rainey and the Toppers step on the field Saturday at Nebraska, and it’s a challenge Rainey said he’s ready to tackle.

“Just give me the ball,” Rainey said. “As long as I produce when I have the ball, just keep giving it to me until I stop producing.”

Rainey gained 939 rushing yards last season, but he did it on just 144 carries while sharing time with backs Tyrell Hayden and Marell Booker.

With Hayden and Booker now graduated, WKU will put the spotlight firmly on Rainey.

“It doesn’t change anything for me,” Rainey said. “If I wasn’t starting, I was still doing the same thing as far as leading and playing my role. The only thing that changes is the title.

“As far as my work ethic and being a leader, that doesn’t change.”

Rainey’s role has been expanded in the new West Coast offense that Head Coach Willie Taggart brought with him.

The scheme relies on a strong rushing attack to open the passing game, so Taggart said he knows how important Rainey is to the Toppers’ success. That’s why he put a yellow jersey on Rainey for the duration of fall camp to protect him from being tackled.

But more importantly, Taggart said Rainey knows what a big part he can play.

“Bobby’s been on board since day one,” Taggart said. “He’s been that guy that said, ‘Coach, whatever you want me to do, I’ll do it.’ He’s fired up about our offense … He knows that he can be very valuable in our offense.”

The Toppers have said several times in their preparation for Nebraska that moving the ball on the Huskers starts with the run.

Nebraska’s highly touted defensive line will make that a difficult task, but sophomore tight end Jack Doyle said the offense has faith in Rainey and the rest of the running back corps.

“Personally, I think our running game is our best thing, so why would we change what we’re going to do?” Doyle said. “We’re going to do what we do, and it should work out for us.”

Rainey’s been on big stages before. He’s played in several of WKU’s “money games” in the past few years, including road trips to Virginia Tech, Alabama and Tennessee, among others.

But with eyes now solely on him, he said his time as part of a running back committee has prepared him for what lies ahead in Lincoln, Neb.

No matter how loud it gets in Memorial Stadium on Saturday, Rainey said it can never match WKU’s game at Virginia Tech — the most hostile environment he’s experienced.

“We should know going into the game that there’s going to be ups and downs, so we can’t get discouraged,” Rainey said. “The crowd doesn’t matter. Once you’re on the field, it’s you and the opponent. The crowd doesn’t bother me at all, and you’ve got to block that out.

“You can’t play the crowd — you play the opponent.”