Kelvin Rainey enrolled at South Carolina in January 2012 with his heart on offense.
This spring has been all about getting his head into being on defense.
Rainey moved from tight end to linebacker this offseason. Leaving the offense was hard, Rainey admitted, but five interceptions in spring practice are going a long way in helping him make the mental transition to defense.
“There’s nothing like scoring a touchdown and getting the crowd into it, knowing you’re able to make plays and help the team win the game,” he said. “I can do the same thing on defense. Getting those interceptions, I can do the same thing and score touchdowns.”
Rainey played all over the field as a senior at Yulee High in Yulee, Fla., scoring four rushing touchdowns as a running back and wildcat quarterback. He added one kickoff return score and had 87 tackles, three sacks and three interceptions on defense.
He picked South Carolina over Arkansas, and both recruited him as a tight end. Other schools, including Alabama and Miami, showed interest in the 6-foot-3, 228-pounder as a linebacker.
The Gamecocks lost four senior linebackers from the 2012 roster. A fifth player – redshirt sophomore Cedrick Cooper – suffered a knee injury during bowl practice and won’t return until this summer.
Coaches needed linebackers to coach this spring and turned to the redshirt freshman Rainey to move to defense and trade his garnet No. 5 jersey for a white one.
“I told them I would do what it takes to help the team,” he said. “Once they told me I was moving to linebacker, there was no huffing and puffing. I went over and did what they asked me to do.”
Rainey and redshirt sophomore Marcquis Roberts are rotating at weakside linebacker this spring.
“Kelvin Rainey just has to be a little more physical, going downhill, stopping the run, but he does a real good job in the 7-on-7 stuff. He makes play after play. That’s exciting,” linebackers coach Kirk Botkin said. “Marcquis is a little more aggressive and goes downhill, a little better against the run than against the pass right now.”
Practicing as a tight end last year helps him recognize whether the offense is going to throw or run, Rainey said. He also credits his prowess for making the interceptions to his athleticism.
“It was the same way in high school,” he said. “I made a lot of plays. I wasn’t a star linebacker. I just made plays. On offense it was harder because you knew you were going to get hit. As a linebacker you know you’re going to give that hit, that pass breakup or get the interception. With me I’m going to get the interception first.”
Rainey had hopes to play as a true freshman after graduating early from high school and enrolling early at USC. He looks back as his redshirt year as time to get bigger, better, stronger and more acclimated to college.
He has worked this spring to get better at taking what he learns in the meeting room and bringing that seamlessly to the practice field.
And while he is counting those interceptions, he realizes he has a lot of room for improvement.
“I’m still working on the little things. I’m still messing up out there,” he said. “Some of the teammates were saying, ‘You’ve got the hard part down pat. Covering for linebacker is hard.’ Now I have to transition to the run game and stop the run game and play the pass. That sounds pretty good to me.”