Dec. 6, 2008
By Scott Eisen
SEATTLE - Born and raised in Stockton, Calif., former Husky running back Louis Rankin grew up watching the Oakland Raiders on TV, dreaming of someday suiting up in silver and black.
He's not quite there yet. But he's close.
Following a successful 2007 season in which he became the first Husky running back in 10 years to rush for more than 1,000 yards, the undrafted Rankin is on the Raiders practice squad, working hard to find a spot on the gameday roster.
This, of course, isn't how he envisioned his NFL career beginning. As the laborious process of the NFL draft went through its seven rounds, Rankin was shocked that his name was never called.
"I felt like I would be drafted for sure," Rankin said. "So when I wasn't drafted, it was real shocking to me, especially because I was talking to a lot of teams, and they were telling me that they were looking to draft me."
But that didn't mean his NFL aspirations were finished. Teams came calling, and once the Raiders contacted Rankin, the decision of where to play became very easy.
"Once I got a call from Oakland, I didn't hesitate," Rankin said. "This is where I've always wanted to be."
While this may be the team he always wanted to play for, the 23-year-old Rankin has his work cut out for him. The Raiders are loaded at running back, with last year's first-round pick, Darren McFadden, leading the way.
The long odds, however, only seem to fuel Rankin's fire. In his first preseason game, he unleashed his blazing speed and broke off a 72-yard run, not unlike many he had while wearing the purple and gold.
That run and the rest of his preseason play, in which he ended up averaging seven yards per carry, didn't come as a surprise to the confident running back.
"It was real exciting," he said. "I can't say I was expecting it, but I was expecting to have a big game because I was practicing at a high level, and I knew it would carry into the game."
Ever since then, Rankin has caught the attention of the Raiders coaching staff, including running backs coach Tom Rathman, who sees potential in the speedy back.
"He's had flashes out here," Rathman told the San Francisco Chronicle. "He's doing a good job. He just needs to keep getting better."
While the overall speed difference between college and the NFL doesn't seem to be a problem for Rankin, the mental aspect of the game stands as the biggest adjustment.
"The guys are a lot smarter than they are in college as far as some of the decisions they make," he said. "Guys are in the position they should be in, but in college, guys are out of position, which makes it easier for running backs to break long runs."
It's been hard work for Rankin thus far, who, as a member of the practice squad, has something to prove every time he sets foot on the field. As it stands right now, his ability to make plays isn't in question; it's his size that is the main focus of the coaching staff.
Standing at 6-foot-1-inch and 205 pounds, Rankin has a solid frame to work with to become a well-rounded back suited for rigors of NFL play.
"We're trying to improve some of his technique and just trying to have him be more of a physical football player," Rathman said.
Although he is often hard at work, Rankin was able to catch bits and pieces of Husky football this year. Despite the UW's disappointing season, he hasn't forgotten his four proud years at Washington.
Even so, he is enjoying the freedoms that come with being away from college and in the professional game.
"In college, you can only do so much because you are only given so much leeway," Rankin said. "In the NFL they give you more leeway, so it's easier to enjoy yourself more at this level. But college was a lot of fun."
As for his future, nothing is certain at this point. While he's making a good impression, he sits behind a trio of good running backs who will make getting into the rotation a very difficult task. The decision of where, when or if he will play is out of his hands, so Rankin is driven by an inner desire to be the best he can be.
"I expect to keep practicing, keep getting better," he said. "I only worry about the things I can control and can't really determine if I'm going to be here or not. I need to just go out there and keep making plays."