The funeral for an uncle, the fourth member of his family to die of COVID-19, made opting out of the 2020 season, not just the best but the only decision for Gainwell. Not to protect his hopes of a professional future but to keep his family safe during the coronavirus pandemic. “Just getting the chance to talk to my family … about COVID,” Gainwell said. “You know my family passed away, so it was a tough, tough decision. I love football. So it was really a tough decision to make, so I just had to do what was best for the fam.”
After spending the past few months studying and training for his future, the running back from Yazoo City, Mississippi, hopes to be selected in the upcoming NFL draft despite a track record of only 18 games at Memphis.
“That moment will be very, very special because it will show the young guys back in the county it’s possible,” Gainwell said. “You can do it. You can do as much as you can, but you know that you can make it, you know so. It would be essential for me for the guys that’s back there.”
After deciding to opt-out, Gainwell went to work. He started training in Memphis, then went to Orlando in November. He worked out and studied until just before coming back to Memphis with pro days replacing the NFL combine. “It was kind of a difficult decision, you know, leaving the team that I loved dearly and just getting myself prepared and just being as safe and doing what I got to do to prepare for myself,” Gainwell said.
Gainwell played only four games in his first season on campus in 2018 and wound up redshirting after four carries for 91 yards. The reason? He was behind Darrell Henderson and Tony Pollard, both now in the NFL.