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College football: Dreams trump distractions

COC quarterback Rini has turned the page on his past

Posted: October 18, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: October 18, 2011 1:55 a.m.

College of the Canyons quarterback Chris Rini started as a freshman in high school in Florida, but he let his grades slip away in the process. Now, he’s trying to recapture his dream of playing at a four-year institution.

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It’s not how you start, but how you finish.

And for College of the Canyons quarterback Chris Rini, the finish is looking good.

Rini, the starting quarterback for the Canyons football team, is in his final season with the squad, working toward his goal of playing football next season at a four-year institution.

The start, though, wasn’t quite so promising.

His on-field performance was never the issue, though, as he was named the starting quarterback of the varsity football team as a freshman at Coral Shores High School in Tavernier, Fla.

But, four years later, he hoped to parlay his on-field success into a college scholarship.

And that’s where Rini’s story gets rocky.

Being the “big man on campus” from an early age had its perks, but it also helped foster an attitude more concerned with having fun off the field than focusing on academics.

“In high school, getting mixed up in the wrong things and stuff like that,” Rini says. “I just let my grades slip away. I thought I had the athletic ability to play at another level, but it doesn’t matter unless you have the grades.”

And unfortunately he didn’t.

With four-year institutions balking at his GPA, Rini chose a different route, moving to California to attend COC on the advice of his high school coaches.

“They sat me down because it was the best thing for me. I love them and I always thank them for that, for looking me in the eye like I’m a grown man and saying, ‘OK, you need to settle down if you want to make it out of here and do what you need to do. You have the talent. You just need to stay on the straight line,’” Rini says.

And Rini did his best to do just that, arriving at COC with the intention of turning things around.

But adversity struck early on, as Rini suffered a season-ending ACL injury that turned an ordinary grey-shirt season into a year of rehabilitation.

Without the distraction of football, Rini found himself revisiting the sort of off-field troubles that plagued his high school career.

“When I came out here I got mixed up with the wrong people. I had ACL surgery, so I wasn’t at practice. I was rehabbing and always on my own doing the wrong things,” Rini says. “It was definitely a setback, but I just had to kick it up a notch once I got back.”

Things started slowly upon his return, as he played in just five games last season, throwing for 89 yards and one touchdown behind starting quarterback Justin Arias.

After the season, though, Rini’s attitude transformed.

Growing up in Florida with his mom, Kaye and brother, Nick, Rini had always maintained a close, yet long-distance relationship with his father, Bob, who lives in Murfreesboro, Tenn.

A religious man, Bob Rini opened Chris’ eyes to the role religion had played in his life.

“My father sat me down at Christmas … and he just told me, ‘Think about all the things that you’ve done wrong, or all the things that God has pulled you out of or kept you from harm,’” Rini recalls. “I realized it a little bit and my brother was there, and we hadn’t had a good relationship since I was little, and we kept talking, and it kept adding up and adding up,” Rini says.

From that day, Rini decided it was time for him to make a change, and devoted his life to Jesus Christ.

And as a result, he devoted his life to making better decisions off the field, which led to great success, and confidence, on it.

Coming into the offseason, it appeared that Arias would return to Canyons, thus relegating Rini to a backup role.

His head coach, Garett Tujague, even says he asked Rini if he would like help transferring away from the school so that he could get more playing time.

But adversity has long been a part of Rini’s life. His mother has battled cancer for six years.

“It’s kind of sad she has cancer, but she’s a soldier,” Rini says. “I learn everything from my mom. I see her being so strong and fighting that it makes me want to. … I’ve seen her at the worst and I’ve seen her at her best. I’ve seen her overcome a lot of things … She’s a soldier. Seeing her fight through the adversity, it gives me strength to fight through that kind of adversity.”

And Rini used the inner strength he’s learned from his mother’s fight, and his father’s wisdom to make a decision about his playing future.

“So (Rini) calls me,” Tujague remembers, “and says ‘I’ve really thought about it and I need you to know I’m coming back (to COC) and no matter what happens with Justin (Arias), I’m coming back and I’ll be your starting quarterback.’”

So Rini returned, but Arias didn’t.

Arias moved on and is playing at Idaho State University.

And now Rini is the starting quarterback for the Cougars.

For the 6-foot-3-inch, 190-pound sophomore in his last season at COC, what was once a pipe dream in high school, is quickly becoming a reality in college.

 “Absolutely,” says Tujague when asked if Rini could play at a higher level. “Chris does an amazing job with our offense. I knew he had the ability. I’m proud of him, but he’s not done. He’s done a much better job of making decisions to improve his status as a human being.”

And with those improvements, Rini is no longer a player with distractions larger than his dreams.

“I’m in a way better position (compared to high school),” Rini says. “I’m on the straight edge. I’m getting my grades right and football is definitely a big part of my life, and Christ is definitely a big part of my life. I’m trying to use football through Christ and see where I can go on my walk with him. … I don’t know what I would do without football or Christ now. He’s lifted me up to a whole other level.”

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