Western Kentucky running back Bobby Rainey has been an overachiever on and off the field.
Against Kentucky on Thursday night, he'll attempt to become only the second WKU player to run for 100 or more yards in six straight games. He gained 100 or more yards in each of the final five games of last season.
Rainey is also set to graduate in December with a degree in sports management. That's a noteworthy achievement for a player whose entrance exam score caused Georgia Tech to recede from its recruitment.
"My SAT scores were not high enough, so they backed off," Rainey said matter-of-factly about Georgia Tech. "Even though Western knew Georgia Tech had offered, they were still behind me."
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Rainey appreciated Western Kentucky's belief in him. Now he enters his senior season sixth on the school's career rushing list (2,847 yards). If he matches last season's total of 1,649 yards), he'll surpass Lerron Moore (4,396 yards) to become WKU's all-time leader.
Growing up in Griffin, Ga., which is 30 minutes south of downtown Atlanta, Rainey aspired to be a Division I runner. Bowling Green reminded him of Griffin. "Not too country, not too city," he said. So he signed with WKU.
Rainey first had to overcome disappointment. When the NCAA Eligibility Center delayed declaring him eligible, he had to miss WKU's opener against Florida his freshman year.
"So, I'm frustrated," he said of his mood then. "I'm fitting to ball. That's who I want to play."
Instead, WKU convinced Rainey to sit out as a redshirt.
"You're a young guy, you don't want to hear anything like that," Rainey said. "Now that I look back at it, it was the best decision I made."
Joker 'a lot more comfortable'
Joker Phillips acknowledged that he's more at ease entering his second season as UK coach.
"You know what to expect," he said. "... It's a lot different. (I'm) a lot more comfortable. And who wouldn't be from year one to year two?"
UK and WKU have new defensive coordinators: Rick Minter for Kentucky and Lance Guidry for Western.
Phillips acknowledged the added challenge that comes with anticipating the moves of a new coordinator.
"That makes it tough," he said. "... That's what the game is about, is who can adjust the fastest. If they're giving us something we weren't expecting, we'll have to adjust."
When asked whether Minter gives WKU coaches something of a puzzle, Phillips said, "Definitely. Works both ways. I'm sure they've been studying Rick's past. (It) will definitely be an advantage for both sides on defense."
Phillips noted how he liked playing in Nashville.
"Big for us," he said. "We tried to hit (that area) really hard in recruiting. It's also close to western Kentucky, which we've done well there in the past. ... It's been a really good recruiting tool to say we're playing at a NFL stadium."
WKU's defense surrendered an average of 380.2 yards and 33.2 points last season.
Yet Rainey said he saw good things this pre-season.
" ... Our defense has been looking amazing," he said.
"Just a lot of plays being made on defense," Rainey said. "A lot of running around. All 11 guys on the ball. That's a great sign."
Todd Stewart, WKU's senior associate athletic director, acknowledged that ticket sales have not gone as well as expected.
LP Field seats 68,798. WKU officials considered a half-full stadium as a reasonable possibility.
"We're looking at a crowd in the 20s," said Stewart, meaning about a third full.
Stewart cited the mid-week date and late kickoff (9:15 p.m. EDT) as factors. He also noted the poor economy.
Ticket prices range from $28 to $63 and are available at WKUsports.com, Ticketmaster.com and at LP Field.