Our coronavirus coverage is free for the first 24 hours. Find the latest information at Please consider subscribing or donating.

  1. Archive

Rattlers dive into foes with full Gainer

When the football ends up in the hands of a defensive lineman, he usually chugs along like a freight train. And in your mind, you hear the voice of some comical announcer saying, "He's rumbling, bumbling, stumbling "

But Florida A&M defensive end Ben Gainer says there was no bumbling and stumbling about his 85-yard interception return against Delaware State last week. Gainer, a Northeast High graduate, paints a rather different picture of his first collegiate touchdown.

"I looked good for 85 yards," Gainer said. "Coming out of the line, I locked up with the tackle and threw him to the inside. He (DE Rod Williams) hit the quarterback and the ball popped out.

"It went up in the air and landed right in my hands and I took off. My first thought was that I wanted my teammates to come up in case I had to pitch the ball, but no one ran with me. The next thing I remember was running into the end zone.

"It was one of the greatest feelings ever."

It also was a great feeling for the Rattlers, who needed the fourth-quarter score to help seal a 25-18 victory and stay in contention for the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference title.

"The interception was really fitting because Ben has been such a hard worker, such a disciplined player and a pleasure to coach," FAMU's first-year coach, Billy Joe, said. "I was happy to see him get a real big play.

"Ben has been doing a real fine job all throughout the season."

Now Gainer and FAMU are looking to do a job on South Carolina State in tonight's MEAC clash at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando. The game, which follows the Central Florida-Troy State game at 1 p.m., will kickoff at 8..

Gainer, a fifth-year senior, is just getting a chance to shine for FAMU. He will finish his career as a starter only because two-time all-conference first-teamer Ervin Collier graduated and moved on to the Chicago Bears. Finally.

"It was difficult," said Gainer, a civil-engineering major, "but I'm the type of person who just fights through that. I worked hard as I could and waited for my time to come."

Of course, Gainer wasn't accustomed to waiting. Even when he began playing youth football with the Riviera Raiders in St. Petersburg, he found success on the field. As a 9-year-old, Gainer was supposed to play in the flyweight division, but was moved to the mighty-mite division because of his size.

Gainer began as a tight end and played for Northeast High at that position. But in his senior year, he was moved to offensive tackle and defensive end. With a 3.6 grade-point average, he was pursued by several colleges and chose Florida A&M because he started getting nervous when a few colleges backed away.

Willie Gainer Sr. has followed his son since those youth football days and said Ben always has been "nice, good-natured and easy going" until he gets on the field. Joyce Gainer wonders, however, whether one of the most thoughtful of her six sons is mean enough to play football.

"Often times, I think he's too kind," Joyce said of her 6-foot-4, 260-pound son. "It seems like football takes a vicious nature, and he doesn't have a vicious nature. He just wants to play a good, clean game. He doesn't want to hurt anyone."

Opponents probably would disagree. Gainer has 32 tackles, including two sacks and three tackles for losses. The frustration of having to wait behind Collier is being released each game.

"I got a lot of time on special teams those years when I was behind him," Gainer said. "I watched what he did and his moves and tried to incorporate that into my own moves."

Those moves have helped Gainer succeed. But it was FAMU's move to a "46" defense that really thrilled him. The alignment, brought in by Joe, allowed Gainer to move from a three-point stance to an upright position.

In the previous defense, Gainer had to come off the line and battle defensive tackles. Now Gainer gets to plot a course before the snap by looking into the backfield, and he doesn't fight the tackles as much.

"I'm not the biggest or the strongest man on the field, so that helped me out a lot," Gainer said.

Gainer is helping FAMU become the MEAC's top defense. The Rattlers are allowing only 289.8 yards per game, including just 112.8 yards rushing.

"Ben was a pleasant surprise because he had not played a lot of football in the past," Joe said. "But we saw him early and thought he would definitely be a primary contributor."

"I always thought I had the talent to play here but just didn't get a chance," Gainer said.

In addition to the new 46 alignment, Gainer says Joe's command for respect and discipline also has helped him and the team play better.

Joe implemented a midnight curfew at the beginning of the season, and in preparation for today's game, Joe reemphasize the discipline in practice this week, cutting down on chatter to increase the focus and intensity.

"We had a real fine week of work," Joe said Friday. "We're expecting to be involved in a great football game."

And with a few more big plays, Gainer will be a big part of that greatness.