Recommended Video:

BRIDGEPORT — When he met an eighth grader named Troy Rainey, Harding football coach Eddie Santiago said, he saw this day coming, and way more. Rainey, though, was going to be an actor.

Santiago convinced him to play, and now Rainey is off to a different kind of big stage. The senior lineman signed his National Letter of Intent to play at Rutgers.

“Big 10, you can’t pass on that,” Rainey said. “It was a real eye-opening opportunity for me. Going there, it changed everything, seeing everything. If I go there, what can I do? What can I be later on in life? It was really great.”

Rainey, at 6-foot-4 and 301 pounds, played both offense and defense in high school but will be a defensive lineman for the Scarlet Knights.

He had been committed to Bowling Green. But Rutgers, with Greg Schiano back as coach, wooed him in one whirlwind week.

Schiano has been recruiting around the northeast by helicopter, and his tour took him to Bridgeport a week ago Wednesday.

“I heard him coming over my house,” Rainey said. “He landed at Sikorsky and drove to my house. Seeing a big-time college coach that everybody praised, coming to my house, it was something special.”

He made an official visit to the school over the weekend, loved the fit and was committed by Monday.

“It’s a good fit. He’s right down the block. We can go see him,” Santiago said.

Santiago said Rainey has grown in “his ability to process the game. He’s very intuitive. He’s a kid that can come back and tell you what’s going on.”

Santiago said he gets a chance to visit eighth graders around the city in the spring to pitch his program to them.

“I saw (Rainey), I knew from there, this kid’s going to be a Sunday player. He’s going to make it,” Santiago said. “He’s blessed with the ability and the body you see at the next level. When you know, you know.

“I’ve been fortunate to coach two of those guys, Taisun (Phommachanh, former Harding and Avon Old Farms quarterback), he’s at Clemson now, and Troy Rainey. He stays with us for four years, gets into a Big 10 school, a power conference.”

Rainey said he hopes he helps open doors for his teammates.

“I’m ready to go in June.”; @fornabaioctp