TAMPA, Fla. — He spent Sunday working for the future, but Steve DeVoursney couldn’t escape a proud piece of his past.
The Griffin (Ga.) High School football coach was prepping with his team still alive in the Class AAAA state playoffs. More than 400 miles away, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers hosted the Atlanta Falcons in a Week 11 game, one in which his former running back Bobby Rainey began as an anonymous name as Doug Martin’s replacement.
Then the texts started coming.
They came from his wife, Jessica. They came from other residents in the west central Georgia town south of Atlanta. They came whenever Rainey did something big, did something more to make America take notice and say, “Who is this guy?”
“Everybody in town was blowing my phone up,” DeVoursney told FOX Sports Florida on Monday, a day after Rainey ran for 163 yards on 30 carries with three total touchdowns. “It was great for him.”
The NFL is a land of equal opportunity. It’s a place where a star college prospect like Ryan Leaf can fail or an undrafted unknown like John Randle can produce a Hall of Fame career.
There’s beauty in the possibility. Nothing is guaranteed, nothing given.
It remains to be seen how far Rainey’s journey will take him, but he’s no longer anonymous throughout the Tampa Bay region. On Oct. 21, the Bucs claimed the second-year player off waivers from the Cleveland Browns, a day after Martin tore the labrum in his left shoulder in a Week 7 loss to the Falcons at the Georgia Dome.
He received his first carries in a Week 10 victory over the Miami Dolphins — eight for 45 yards — but Sunday’s output was so unexpected that defensive tackle Gerald McCoy admitted afterward that he had no idea who the Western Kentucky product was before Rainey arrived.
“He shook me so bad one time in practice, I was like, ‘Man if they ever put him in the game, he’s going to kill it,’ ” McCoy said.
Watching Rainey is like observing a hummingbird between the hashes. He’s 5-foot-8, 212 pounds, a frame he calls “a blessing” because he’s able to hide like a toothpick among trees behind the offensive line. He has been called too short to play for as long as he can recall, but it’s easy to see how the slights sharpen his competitive drive.
“It motivates me to make everybody know who I am, as far as coming to work everyday, learning the playbook and doing my job,” said Rainey, 26. “Eventually, it gets to the point where they know who I am.”
DeVoursney always thought Rainey could make that happen, as long as someone offered the chance. The coach says he has led about seven players at Griffin High who went on to have NFL careers, talents like Seattle Seahawks defensive end Chris Clemons and former defensive tackle Johnathan Sullivan, who was the sixth overall pick in 2003 for the New Orleans Saints.
The best of the bunch, according to the coach: Rainey.
Early in high school, Rainey approached DeVoursney and told him that playing Division I football was a dream. DeVoursney shared advice on how to develop as a player and student. Rainey had a T-shirt made that read “D I” as a reminder of his goal.
“I actually (foresaw) me actually playing in this league when I was little,” Rainey said Sunday. “It was scary that I actually saw this. And then to actually be a part of it and do the things that I’m doing is cool.”
Rainey’s path has included a few twists, though. He was called too small to play Division I football. He received an offer from Georgia Tech, but the opportunity disappeared after his SAT scores were considered too low.
Rainey rushed for a school-record 4,542 yards at Western Kentucky, but he never received an invite to the NFL Combine. Then he was passed over in the 2012 draft, a slight he didn’t take well.
On draft day, he saw the Washington Redskins select Florida Atlantic running back Alfred Morris in the sixth round, an inferior player in Rainey’s eyes.
Click. He stopped watching then and there.
One route closed, another opened.
Rainey entered the league as a college free agent with the Baltimore Ravens. He spent six weeks on the practice squad last season before he was promoted to the active roster, playing behind another bite-sized runner in Ray Rice.
Baltimore cut him in August before Cleveland claimed him in September. He played six games there, running for 34 yards on 13 carries, before the latest turn in a road that knows no straight lines.
“When preparation meets opportunity,” Bucs coach Greg Schiano said. “This guy, (he has) an incredible work ethic. When his chance came, he was ready for it. If he had been sitting on the couch eating bonbons and not being in shape, and he got the phone call from the Bucs, the opportunity was going to come and go. That’s a good lesson for everybody.”
Another lesson: Rainey, who counts Barry Sanders as an inspiration, could be a fantasy find.
He joked Monday about how his former teammate at Western Kentucky, wide receiver Quinterrance Cooper, dropped him from his fantasy team about a month ago. Rainey earned 34 points Sunday, leading most standard leagues, and he checked in to see if Cooper had given him a second chance.
Turns out, he delivered most of Cooper’s points.
Likely, more will search for Rainey in the coming days and discover the Bucs’ new fascination for themselves. For DeVoursney, this growing national discovery is no secret, only the development of potential he saw many years ago.
Those texts he received Sunday? They’re proof that with work, will and an outlet to showcase it all, anything is possible.
“He’s one of the guys who deserves a shot,” DeVoursney said. “We always knew that if somebody would ever give him a chance, he could make it.”