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Who Won? Jeff Demps & Chris Rainey debate their legendary street race at Florida

On3 imageby:Zach Abolverdi05/22/23


GAINESVILLE, Fla. — There’s an urban legend on the University of Florida campus about a street race between Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey, the only athletes in school history to win national titles in two different sports. The story has been retold at tailgates and on message boards, taking place before Twitter became popular.

Several UF players supposedly witnessed this race, but only one is on the record about it. No video exists anywhere on the Internet. Fifteen years later, it’s time to hear what happened from the horse’s mouth — both of them.

Gators Online spoke exclusively with Demps, Rainey and former Florida coach Urban Meyer to get to the bottom of this story.

“With all due respect, with all due respect,” Demps said with a smile, “you can’t even mention me and Rainey in the same speed.”

Let’s take you back to the summer of 2008. The urban legend became front-page news, courtesy of none other than Urban himself.

At SEC Media Days that July, Meyer was asked if the Gators were achieving his goal of becoming America’s fastest college football team. That’s when he revealed the race between Demps and Rainey — and the result.

“You probably could have sold about 10,000 tickets for that, and ESPN GameDay probably would have been there as well,” Meyer said.


Before crossing paths at UF, the two had already garnered notoriety for races they previously won — Demps on the track and Rainey in a parking lot.

When Rainey was at Lakeland High School, he was challenged to a street race by five-star recruit and future West Virginia running back Noel Devine. They squared off in a Wal-Mart parking lot on South Florida Avenue in Lakeland, Florida, where Rainey beat him three times.

In late June at the 2008 U.S. Olympic track and field trials, Demps set a new national high school record in the 100 meters at 10.01 seconds. His time also equaled the 100M world junior record, matching the mark set by Darrel Brown in 2003.

Demps enrolled at UF shortly after the Olympic trials and the New York Times called him the fastest player in college football history. His record and reputation made him an instant target for Rainey, a redshirt freshman.

As soon as Demps arrived on campus, he said the trash talk started coming from Rainey’s high school teammates. Demps entertained their challenge, even though he felt Rainey was reluctant to face him.

“When it came to me for some reason, with Rainey, you know, I’m like, ‘Yeah, I’ll race him.’ But I can tell — you can look in somebody’s eyes, they don’t want to race,” Demps said.

After a couple weeks of barbs and build up, Demps was walking from study hall to his dorm room. As he reached the UF Springs Complex, several players were outside.

“It was just this particular night,” Demps said. “I think it was Ahmad Black, a couple other Lakeland guys, you know, ‘Hey, you can’t whoop Rainey! You can’t whoop Rainey!’”

Jeff Demps vs. Chris Rainey

Just weeks removed from competing in Eugene, Oregon, Demps decided to put his track speed to the test in a street race against Rainey.

They went behind the dorms for a head-to-head match and held a 40-yard dash in an alleyway of the Springs Complex.

“We had plenty a lot of witnesses,” Rainey said. “Every time we do street races, we gotta have witnesses. You have to. Or you’re going to hear two different sides to the story.”

What happened next? Well, it depends on who you ask.

“I didn’t witness it, but I’ve heard a lot about it,” Florida quarterback Tim Tebow said at SEC Media Days in 2008. “It was interesting, they said. There were several false starts.”

According to Demps, he edged Rainey out 2-1.

“I say we raced three times, and I won two,” Demps said. “The last one, he stole the hit on me, and I just let him take it. And they took off running and the story spread.”

Rainey tells a different account of the race.

“My version, we raced one time. Got him out the gates, out of there,” Rainey said. “But I heard him coming, he definitely was coming. It was about that much (holds up index finger and thumb closely together). It was about that much though, but it was a good race.”

So, who’s telling the truth? Did they race once or three times?

Demps and his supporters say the latter took place, while Tebow and some other players — particularly the ones from Lakeland — claim that Rainey won.

“From what I hear, Rainey did win in the 40,” Tebow said. “It’s pretty unbelievable because [Demps] is one of the fastest in the world (in the 100-meter dash).”

Rainey’s version of events is the story that was relayed to Meyer, who delivered the news in Hoover, Alabama.

“The fastest 18-year-old to ever run track, his name is Jeff Demps, he’s on our campus now. … Chris Rainey beat him in a race the other day,” Meyer said at SEC Media Days. “Everyone was saying how fast (Demps) is, so they said, ‘Let’s go in the back of the dorms, let’s figure this thing out.’ I guess Chris nudged him out, so we’ve got some speed.”

Rainey told Gators Online he raced a total of five players at Florida and only lost to one of them in a parking lot, and it wasn’t Demps.

But is the urban legend real?

“Rainey knows,” Demps said. “When he lays down at night, lays his head on his pillow, he knows the true story.”

Rainey does know this: he could only beat Demps on the track in his dreams.

“At the end of the day, you still got it in the 100. You got that. 40? It’s all mine,” Rainey said. “Let me have my junk, please. Thank you.”

After facing each other at the Springs Complex, Demps and Rainey raced together in 2010. Both were on the Gators men’s 4×100-meter relay team and won the NCAA championship with a time of 39.04 seconds, along with Jeremy Hall and Terrell Wilks.

Rainey ran the leadoff leg and Demps handled the anchor leg to help the Gators win back-to-back NCAA Championships in the 4×100. They were also members of Florida’s 2008 national championship football team.

“I love ‘Rain Man’. Like, great athlete, incredible athlete,” Demps said prior his induction into the UF Athletic Hall of Fame. “I’m pretty sure in a year or two or three, however long, he’ll be in the Hall as well. And you know, he pushed me and I pushed him and we just fed off of each other and just wanted to see each other do great things, man.”

Did Demps and Rainey ever have a rematch?

“Hell nah. Uh-uh,” Rainey said. “When you beat somebody you know that’s fast, you don’t wanna race again. No. Because that next time, they’re gonna probably get you.”

Sign of things to come

Although Meyer publicized the Rainey-Demps duel at SEC Media Days in 2008, it wasn’t something he promoted to his team.

Rainey had already raced a few UF teammates in 2007, and Meyer recalls the anticipation amongst players for him to face Demps.

“I do remember,” Meyer told Gators Online. “That was always a conversation on our team.”

Meyer decided to have his own conversation with the Gators after the race went down between Demps and Rainey. He held a team meeting and prohibited 40-yard dashes in parking lots.

“When I heard about it, I called in some of the guys and told them and their position coaches that they were not allowed to do that,” Meyer said. “My obvious concern was getting injured.”

Meyer had no issue with players challenging each other to races but wanted them to be in a controlled environment on the football field — not asphalt — with strength and conditioning coaches.

Meyer’s spring games would feature the fastest Gator on campus competition between Florida’s top speedsters and a group of UF students. He also kept a 40-yard dash board in the locker room.

“I remember when I first arrived at Florida making a statement that we wanted the fastest team in America, and we became the fastest,” Meyer told Gators Online. “Speed breeds speed. That was in recruiting, the way we compete and practice, of course in the spread offense, how we played defense, and our special teams were filled with elite speed. I had a rule on our punt block team that you had to run 4.4 or better to play on that team.”

Urban Meyer’s 40-yard dash board at Florida.

Following their footrace, Demps and Rainey contributed significantly to Florida’s 2008 national championship. Both were integral to the team’s success with their speed and playmaking ability on offense and special teams.

They averaged 7.8 yards per carry apiece that season, with Rainey rushing for 652 yards and four touchdowns and Demps logging 605 yards and seven TDs. The duo topped 100 yards in the same game against Arkansas, which hadn’t been done at UF since 1997.

Demps also blocked two punts in 2008, while Rainey recorded the school and SEC record for most career punt blocks (six). And with players such as Percy Harvin, Louis Murphy and Deonte Thompson on the roster, the Gators had speed to burn.

“It was the fastest team I’ve coached or seen, certainly one of the fastest in college football history. Very rare to find that type of speed in athletes who also had the football skill,” Meyer said of his 2008 Gators. “Demps and Rainey were freshmen on that team and became critical players.”

RELATED: Jeff Demps & Chris Rainey Highlights

Where are they now?

Demps and Rainey rank 9th and 10th, respectively, in UF history in career rushing yards. Demps finished with 2,470 yards and 23 touchdowns on 367 carries (6.7 average) and Rainey rushed for 2,464 yards rushing and 13 touchdowns on 396 attempts (6.2 average). Rainey also made 69 receptions for 795 yards and six TDs, while Demps caught 57 passes for 481 yards and one score.

Rainey was a fifth-round pick in 2012 and played for three NFL teams before spending seven years in the Canadian Football League. During a workout with the Kansas City Chiefs, Rainey ran the 40 and was reportedly timed on one stopwatch at 4.29 seconds.

Demps prepared for the 2012 Summer Olympics instead of the NFL Draft and won silver with Team USA in the 4x100m relay. He spent four years in the league and then returned to the track, winning first place in the 100M at the Bermuda Invitational in 2018.

Demps now serves as a fitness and wellness coach, operating his own business called JD Fitness. Rainey is based in Ocala and trains track athletes and football players through Rainey Elite Speed (AAU track) and the Chris Rainey Speed Factory (speed training).

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