Gaines bearing down for pro career
Second Chance for Local Product to Make NFL

By Jeff Birchfield
STAR Staff
jbirchfield@starhq.com

   JONESBOROUGH - Rarely do people have second chances to make good on a dream, but that's exactly what Teddy Gaines is attempting to do as a member of the Chicago Bears football team going into training camp.
   The former Kingsport Dobyns-Bennett high school and University of Tennessee star defensive back, who was signing autographs at Wetlands Waterpark on Friday, is making a second run at the National Football League after being released last season by the San Francisco 49ers at the end of training camp.
   "I want to make it with the Bears," said Gaines, scheduled to start training camp in Chicago on July 23. "They are a lot like the 49ers in that they have a lot of tradition and both organizations want to win. I like the Bears' coaches. They are real tough and serious about their jobs.
   "They have good defensive backs, so I have to work hard to get in there with those guys. One thing is the defensive playbook wasn't that hard to learn in school, but here you have to know a lot more stuff. For me as a back it's not too hard. The main thing is to keep guys covered."
   Gaines worked his way back to being a NFL prospect by playing for the Rhein Fire of NFL Europe. His team made it all the way to the "World Bowl", but was hammered in the championship game.
   Still, Gaines credits his time overseas for giving him exposure to NFL coaches and making him a better pro prospect.
   "It was the biggest game I ever played in, real exciting," said Gaines about the NFL Europe title game. "The level of play in Europe is a little bit tougher than in college. I became a better player over there. Playing more football, you are going to get better."
   Other things about the European lifestyle weren't suited to Teddy's tastes. Although he says people were nice to him, he still did feel some undertones of anti-American sentiment.
   "I liked being over there, but I would rather be here in America," said Gaines. "As a whole, people dress differently and act differently. The food over there, some days it was better than others. The way it was prepared wasn't always to my liking. I liked playing in NFL Europe, but it's not the NFL."
   Boasting outstanding speed, Gaines ran sprints and relay events for the track team at Tennessee. That alone gives him a fighting chance at making good on his pro football dream. If there is an Achilles heel, it may be a lack of size. Standing 6-0 tall, Gaines is a slender 175 pounds.
   Nevertheless, he feels confident he can hold his own bringing down tall receivers like Randy Moss and weighty running backs like the Giants' Ron Dayne.
   "I am probably a little faster than in college," said Gaines. "I have to be able to keep up with the (NFL) receivers and run down whoever I have to get. I know I am fast. I don't really worry about my speed or my times in the 40.
   "I'm not that big and I know that is one strike against me, but I think I can get stronger and bigger. If get somewhere like Chicago and get settled, I think it will help. If I'm going to be out there playing, I'm going to have to tackle those big guys. I know it's not easy, but I think my tackling is probably the main thing that got better by playing in Europe."
   Another adjustment for Gaines, who has stated a preference for warmer weather, will be this winter getting acclimated with the Arctic-like conditions at Chicago's Soldier Field.
   He is the second D-B player in the modern era to make it to the professional level. The last player to do so was former Indian fullback Mike Faulkerson. Ironically, Faulkerson was also a member of the Chicago Bears and later played for the Carolina Panthers.
   The local ties don't stop there as another former Tennessee Vol is currently trying to make his way on the Bears' roster. That person is Alex Walls, the outstanding kicker from Bristol.
   "After I got back from Europe a couple of weeks ago, I had to go through Chicago," recounted Gaines. "That's when I found out Alex was in Chicago, too. That's going to be all right seeing Alex trying to make it with the Bears. He's a good dude."
   Gaines and Walls are among six Tri-Cities area players either drafted or invited to tryouts by NFL teams. The others are Jason Witten of Elizabethton, drafted by the Dallas Cowboys; Witten's brother Shawn, who along with Morristown's Cecil Moore inked free-agent deals with the New York Jets; and Aubrayo Franklin of Johnson City, drafted by the Baltimore Ravens.
   Teddy feels proud to be part of this contingent.
   "It's great all these guys around here are getting the opportunity to play more ball," said the former all-state selection at Dobyns-Bennett. "We just need more and more kids to keep on trying and they will make it. If that's what you want to do, just try hard and you will make it. Folks from around here can do it as well as anyone from anywhere else can."
   Favorite memories of his playing days at Tennessee include the first time he ran through the band-formed T, which Gaines admits brought huge butterflies in his stomach, winning the National Title his freshman season and a special road win his senior year.
   "When we beat Florida, that was a big game," said Gaines, who wore No. 12 on his collegiate uniform. "We hadn't beaten them down there in a while (since 1971) and no one gave us a chance to beat them. We went down there and got it done and it was a good moment. I was knocked out at the end of that game. That's the only time I've been hurt like that playing football. That time I got my bell rung, but I was happy."
   If things don't work out for Gaines with the Bears, he will look for opportunities with other teams. If things don't work out as a professional athlete period, a backup plan is to become a teacher. Surprisingly, he says coaching isn't a part of those plans as he would like to use his major at UT and teach history at the high school level.
   To make good on the dream to become a NFL player, Gaines will likely have to take the same route he used to corral the starting DB spot at Tennessee, becoming a special teams operative first.
   "If I am going to get in the door, that's probably going to be my easiest way to get in there -- through special teams," said Gaines, who blocked three field goals and a punt as a high school senior and recorded 14 special teams tackles as a college freshman. "If I get in there, it will help me get in the secondary rotation. The first thing I have to do is to get on special teams, because the main thing is to make it on that roster."