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Gainer is the highlight for B-CC

If the Bethune-Cookman College Wildcats were to begin shooting a 1990 season highlight film now, it would be essentially a one-man show featuring kick returner Kevin Gainer. Although Gainer, a senior from Plant City High, is on the field for perhaps a half-dozen plays per game, he's no bit actor or contributor.

Gainer is second in Division I-AA in kickoff returns, averaging 32.67 yards an attempt (12 for 392 yards). He's also 16th in punt returns with a 9.89 average (13 for 128 yards).

"When we first signed him, we felt he'd be an outstanding speciality-type player, but we really didn't think he'd be this good," Bethune-Cookman coach Larry Little said.

After all, it took Gainer more time to find _ and then adjust to _ his niche than it takes him to locate an exploitable crack in an opponent's kick coverage.

He was a Proposition 48 casualty as a freshman in 1987. As a sophomore, he was a backup wide receiver _ his position while a senior at Plant City. But in 10 games, he didn't have a reception.

Gainer only touched the ball on kickoffs _ 20 returns for 426 yards (a modest 21.3-yard average) _ and punts, 23 returns for 230 yards.

Last year, Little moved him to defensive back, the position he played throughout most of his high school and youth football career. But at 5 feet 6, he saw little playing time, contributing six tackles.

Again, he was relegated to the special teams where he developed into something special. He had 23 kickoff returns for 608 yards (a 26.4-yard average) and one touchdown and 21 punt returns for 143.

"I wanted to be a running back this year, but I guess this is my thing and I'm trying to excel at it," Gainer said. "Right now, I feel more comfortable at this position than any position I've ever played. I just want to do whatever I can to help the team."

Between his special teams play and his few rushes (eight for 3 yards) and even fewer pass receptions (four for 61), Gainer leads the team in average all-purpose running (97.3 yards a game).

"He has speed and quickness and good vision," Little said. "He's part of that rare breed that can make things happen on special teams. He's been our highlight."

The Wildcats (1-3 in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, 2-5 overall) have lost their last five games. They travel to Greensboro, N.C., to play North Carolina A&T (2-1, 6-1 and No.

20 in Division I-AA) today at 1:30 p.m.

"This is probably the best team we've faced all year, but I'm confident we'll play hard," Little said. "Yes, this is the lowest point in my life. I haven't been through anything like this before. But we're not giving up."

Life at the top: The Florida A&M Rattlers (4-3, 3-0), who have won three straight, look to remain atop the MEAC when they play lowly Morgan State (0-8, 0-4) today at 2:30 p.m. in Miami.

FAMU hasn't won the conference title in six years. But if the Rattlers beat Morgan State and win one of their final two MEAC games (Howard on Nov.

10 and Bethune-Cookman in the Florida Classic on Nov.

24 at Tampa Stadium), they'll clinch at least a portion of the title.

Howard, North Carolina A&T and defending champ Delaware State all have one MEAC loss _ the latter two to FAMU.

What's a Saluki?: The Central Florida Knights (4-3), looking to rebound after a dogged effort in a 38-17 loss to powerhouse Georgia Southern, will play host to the Southern Illinois Salukis today at 7 p.m.

The Salukis (2-6) have lost their last five games and could be steamrolled by the Knights. UCF is averaging 247 yards a game on the ground and have surpassed the 400-yard mark two straight weeks.

Couple that with the Knights' staunch defense (258 yards and 19 points a game) and it could be a dog-day evening for Southern Illinois. By the way, a Saluki is a hunting dog.

Numbers game: UCF senior Sean Beckton just moved into second place on the school's all-time receiving yardage list with three catches for 35 yards last week. He now has 2,368 yards, just 75 behind former Zephyrhills star Teddy Wilson.