He came to UT in 2010 on a track scholarship.
Yet, one need only look at Jake Rainey's rope sandals to see a man who has found success outside of the realm of athletics.
Now a senior in journalism and electronic media, Rainey's time is split between running, activism and classes.
His sophomore year, Rainey began attending Students Promoting Environmental Action in Knoxville meetings for Geology class. But, falling in love with the movement, he continued his membership with SPEAK out of his passion for green activism.
"If Tennessee needs to know anything," Rainey said, "it's that climate change is real and that something needs to be done about it."
During Rainey's first semester in SPEAK, the organization learned of a factory being planned in Greene County that would manufacture explosives for mountaintop-removal mining. The explosives were made with red phosphorous, a substance that reacts with water and air to create highly-toxic phosphine gas.
The factory – activists worried – could spread toxins beyond the estimated 500-acre radius, thus threatening a vital Tennessee River watershed and nearby elementary school.
At a town hall debate on the issue, Rainey and other SPEAK organizers publicly spoke against the project.
"That was a turning point in my life," he said. "I decided I really enjoyed that sort of activism and public speaking. Getting a chance to do something like that was pretty awesome. And obviously I enjoyed it, since I'm still doing it."
Rainey's future, however, is not yet certain, and he's okay with that. He prefers to live in the moment.
"Your mind can go some pretty dark places sometimes if you try to think too far ahead," he said.
However, Rainey does plan to stay in the South after graduation, feeling his work should help reform energy priorities in the traditionally conservative region.
Rainey's passion for the environment is rivaled only by his love for his family.
Gary Peterman, Rainey's former academic adviser, has witnessed the magnitude of that love. He parades a slightly yellowed article from 2012 as proof; that year, Rainey sacrificed a semester of running to care for his mother after she sustained multiple injuries in a car accident.
Rainey himself never mentioned this act. Only by request would he offer details.
"When I decided to take the semester off, it wasn't really an option in my mind," Rainey said. "I just did what I had to do to help my mom because I know she would've done the same for me."
Regardless of what he chooses to pursue, Peterman is sure of Rainey's success.
"He is athletically active, but he is also intellectually active, and I always find that refreshing," he said. "To me, there's not a limitation on him. He would be successful in whatever endeavor he goes into."