Untouchable: Rainey prepared to shoulder the load for WKU football

Junior running back Bobby Rainey (in yellow) will be one of Western’s biggest playmakers this season, but he said he’s much more worried about breaking the Toppers’ 20-game losing streak. “I don’t care if I don’t get one yard as long as we’re winning,” he said.

Zach Greenwell

This story was originally published Aug. 22, 2010.

Junior running back Bobby Rainey isn’t short on confidence.

The Griffin, Ga., native knows what he can do with a football in his hands, and that’s why he’s comfortable sporting a yellow jersey during Western’s fall camp.

The yellow jersey — implemented by Head Coach Willie Taggart — signifies that Rainey cannot be tackled, and it’s an accessory that’s earned him some ribbing from his teammates.

“They’ve been giving me a lot of grief about it, but it’s cool,” Rainey said with a grin. “They see the big picture. The team as a whole understands that, but even though they understand it, they’re still going to give me crap about it. It doesn’t bother me.”

Senior wide receiver Quinterrance Cooper, Rainey’s roommate since they were freshmen, often spearheads the light-hearted attacks.

“Me and Bobby are real close, so we go at it all the time,” Cooper said. “Sometimes I call him out on Twitter. He doesn’t like to get on it, so I have to write what I write and then show it to him.”

It seems odd to think that a running back would be forced to shy away from contact, but Taggart said he’s not willing to sacrifice Rainey on an unnecessary injury.

Taggart knows what it’s like to scramble for a decent running back. During his first year as running backs coach at Stanford, he had six starters go down with injuries and was forced to put the ball in the hands of a true freshman defensive back.

When Stanford standout running back Toby Gerhart burst onto the scene, Taggart protected him closely. From that point on, he said he vowed that he’d do the same if he ever became a head coach.

“Toby was our guy, and we didn’t want to get him beat up in practice,” Taggart said. “We need those guys for the game, and it’s also good for those other guys to get a lot of reps. We know what Bobby can do, and we’re going to need some of those other guys.

“I don’t want it to be like how it was that first year at Stanford.”

Increased role

For the first time since he arrived at Western, Rainey will be “the guy” for the Toppers this season.

He shared carries with backs Marell Booker and Tyrell Hayden last year but still managed to total 939 yards on just 144 rush attempts.

Despite getting only 186 carries in his first two years, Rainey said he’s ready to show that he can shoulder the load in the running game.

“Just give me the ball,” he said. “As long as I produce when I have the ball, just keep giving it to me until I stop producing. That’s when I’m not capable of it anymore.”

Taggart said he doesn’t expect Rainey to get 30 runs per game — reserves such as Avery Hibbitt and Braxston Miller can also contribute.

But overall touches are a different story, Taggart said. Western’s new West Coast offense will give Rainey a chance to add dimensions to his game and become a significant part of the passing game.

And Rainey’s penchant for the return game is already well known. The junior set school records in 2009 with 2,101 all-purpose yards and 1,050 net kick return yards.

“We have a chance to do a lot of different things with Bobby,” Taggart said. “He’s athletic enough, and we wouldn’t do our team any good if we didn’t find ways to get the ball in his hands.

“I told him, ‘You’re going to have an opportunity to expand your game — not just as a runner and kickoff returner, but as a receiver too. You’re going to be able to show your versatility, so get excited about it and take advantage of it.’”

National attention

It seems as though the secret about Rainey’s talent has finally escaped Bowling Green.

CBS Sports recently named him its No. 6 running back overall for its fantasy college football game. He was also named to the watch list for the newly created Paul Hornung Award, which will be awarded to college football’s most versatile player.

While Rainey said he’s flattered by such honors, they don’t really mean that much to him.

He considers production and individual glory to be two different things. Statistics lead to attention, but production leads to wins, he said.

“I don’t care if I don’t get one yard as long as we’re winning,” he said. “That’s what I’m about — I’m about winning. It doesn’t mean anything if you don’t win. Absolutely nothing.”

Wins have eluded Rainey throughout his time at Western. In fact, he’s seen just two victories as an active player.

That’s why he doesn’t feel too badly about stepping into a “playmaker” role. If it means snapping the Toppers’ 20-game losing streak, he’ll run all day long, he said.

“That’s just my train of thought going into any sport,” he said. “I’m a competitive guy like that. So when I came here and got a chance to show them, I was basically just myself. I knew coming in that I would try to be that guy, because that’s just my mentality.”

Taggart doesn’t doubt Rainey’s talents and never has. But as a guy who “has Western in his DNA,” Taggart said he expects Rainey to give everything he’s got to the program.

“I told Bobby that, ‘If you want to have a great year, you’ve got to be a great leader,’” Taggart said. “’You have all the athletic ability. You’ve done everything. Everyone looks to you when things go bad, so be that leader.’

“The kids a winner. He wants to win. That’s how he’s been since day one when I met him, which I really like.”

Winding down

Rainey said he leaves everything he has on the football field, so in order to release tension, he’s embraced a couple of unlikely sports — golf and tennis — as relaxation methods.

Rainey said he prefers “hitting the golf ball hard” at the driving range over playing a full round.

He was introduced to the game by former Western student assistant Julie Reed, but said that his first try was anything but relaxing.

“I ended up breaking the driver,” he said. “I don’t understand how I broke it, because I didn’t hit the ground or nothing. Julie said the clubs were a little old, so I’m going to blame it on that.”

Tennis is another favorite activity of Rainey’s, allowing him to work on his footwork.

Standing just 5-foot-7, Rainey’s always had to rely on his shifty feet. He’s come to admire those that have done big things with small statures, especially Jacksonville Jaguars star Maurice Jones-Drew and his idol, former Detriot Lions great Barry Sanders.

“He was just so smooth and his footwork is unbelieveable,” Rainey said of Sanders. “I try to take the things that I saw from him onto the field for me. He was just a phenomenal player. I loved his whole running style, and he’s short like me. I like all short running backs.”

Fun and games

Rainey’s been known to be pretty hard on himself from time to time — it’s just usually his virtual self.

He’s an avid player of the video game NCAA Football ‘11 for Playstation 3, usually opting to play with himself and the Toppers.

EA Sports, the creators of the game, can’t officially put any college player in their product, although you’ll find a familiar running back listed at the top of Western’s depth chart as “RB #3.”

The character, ranked on a scale that goes to 99, received an overall rating of 74. It also got a 92 for speed, an 88 for agility and a 66 for strength.

Rainey said the people at EA Sports underrated him, although he admitted they may know more about him than he thought.

“I don’t think I’m rated fairly, but I do think they put a little boost on my speed,” Rainey said. “But that’s okay — I’ll take that. It actually kind of reminds me of how I really am though, because I’m always getting hurt on the game. That’s similar to what I’ve been through on the field in reality.”

Rainey’s biggest grievance is with his catching ability, which the game puts in the 60s, but he said it hasn’t stopped him from consistently posting 150 rushing yards, 100 receiving yards, and the occassional passing touchdown with himself.

Yes, even the occassional passing touchdown. When the character representing sophomore quarterback Kawaun Jakes goes down with an injury, Rainey said he’ll often put himself in under center.

Sophomore receiver Marcus Vasquez is still listed as a backup quarterback for the Toppers on the game, and Rainey said Vasquez just isn’t getting it done for his fake program.

“When Vasquez comes in the game, I put myself at quarterback because Vasquez is trash on the game,” Rainey said, laughing. “I put myself in there to throw a little bit.”

Rainey’s teammates hope he can post some video game-like statistics in real life this season.

Cooper said his own game-playing days are over, but he agreed that Rainey might’ve gotten shortchanged with his virtual counterpart.

“I broke a lot of joysticks growing up, so I don’t play anymore,” Cooper said. “He’s probably higher than that though. In the clutch, I wouldn’t want it to go anywhere else.”