Florida RB prospect endured tough childhood, joined Pounceys as extended family member
May 2, 2012 12:15 AM
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Running back Chris Rainey grew up with Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey.
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The Steelers selected Florida running back Chris Rainey with their fifth-round pick (159) Saturday in the NFL draft.
By Ed Bouchette Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Life got off to a tough start for Steelers draft pick Chris Rainey, born while his mother was locked up in a Florida jail.
He would live with a grandmother, and with his mother once she left prison. He came from what generally is described as a broken home.
Lisa and Rob Webster changed all that for Rainey when he moved in with their family early in high school. The family included twin brothers named Maurkice and Mike Pouncey, who think of Chris Rainey as a brother.
"He's like one of our kids," Lisa Webster said from Lakeland, Fla., where all three played football at the same high school.
All three might have played for the Steelers, too, had they gotten their wish a year ago and been able to draft Mike, who plays center for the Miami Dolphins. Instead, they drafted another child from the Webster household, which is where everyone gathered over the weekend to watch the draft and wait for a telephone call.
"He said he wanted to be with his family," Lisa Webster said. "We were all at our house when the Steelers called. His mom, grandma, lot of brothers, couple of sisters. He has seven or eight."
Rainey and the Pouncey boys were friends before they were family.
"He would come over on the weekends," Lisa said, explaining how Rainey came to live with them. "He came over for Thanksgiving; he just kept spending the night and wouldn't go home. One day he said, 'Can I stay with ya'll?' I talked to my husband about it, we set some rules, and we let him stay."
It may not be "The Blind Side," but it'll do.
"I think we were a stable situation," Lisa Webster said. "We treated him like he was one of our own. We took him on all our vacations. He had a room of his own. All during college, he comes to our house."
He was there Monday, waiting to fly to Pittsburgh for Steelers rookie orientation, which begins Friday.
The Steelers don't have another halfback quite like him, a small (5 feet 8, 178 pounds) but ultra-quick runner who does it all -- runs, catches passes, returns, even blocks punts. With Pro Bowl return man Antonio Brown starting at wide receiver, the Steelers are looking for someone else to do at least part of that job. But they have plans for him to do more.
"We're excited about getting an explosive, fast player with some of those skills in the building," offensive coordinator Todd Haley said.
Brian White, who coaches the running backs at Florida, said the Steelers should be excited to get what he called "the steal of the draft."
"I've been coaching 26 years and had as much fun coaching him as anyone I've ever coached," White said Monday while on a recruiting trip in Georgia. "He's an incredibly infectious guy. He loves football and he really is an electric athlete.
"His change of direction is the best I've ever seen. I've never been around anyone who can change direction and accelerate like him. He'll make a ton of dynamic plays in a lot of different areas for the Steelers and people will enjoy watching him play. He'll bring enthusiasm and excitement to practice and the stadium that people will enjoy."
The big-boy NFL can be rough on small players such as Rainey, his stature the reason he wasn't drafted until the fifth round.
"I've coached little backs and I've coached big backs," said White, who coached a really big one in 250-pound Heisman Trophy winner Ron Dayne at Wisconsin. "Chris doesn't take a lot of full contact hits, he has a sixth sense. They don't square him up. He takes glancing blows, not direct hits. He didn't have any problem holding up for us this past year. He's extremely durable."
A fifth-year player who gained a redshirt in 2007 after playing in four games, he averaged 6.22 yards per carry over his career -- 396 rushes for 2,464 yards. He also caught 69 passes for 795 yards. He started 10 games at Florida last season and was a fan and coaches' favorite.
"Chris doesn't drink, he doesn't smoke, nothing," White said.
But he texts, or at least he did, and he sent the wrong message to his older girlfriend who, Lisa Webster said, broke his heart.
"Time to die," read the text. The girl didn't turn him in, but her sister called the police. Rainey was in hot water, charged with a possible felony.
"People say stupid stuff when they get in arguments," Lisa Webster noted. "Rainey texted it.
"I got on him. I told him I'd drive to Gainsville and beat him if he called her again. The boys called him. We know he wouldn't do anything like that, he was just mad at the time. It wasn't even her who called police. She knew he wouldn't do anything like that."
He accepted a plea by pledging to avoid legal trouble for six months, perform 10 hours of community service and undergo anger management classes.
"He has the one blemish," White said. "He learned from it. He should have listened to Herm Edwards: Don't trust send. He's a good guy, he has a great heart. I think it's great Maurkice will be up there with him, showing him what it takes to be a pro."
After all, there was a house full of them in Lakeland, Fla.