published Friday, March 18th, 2011

Safety first in all areas

MARIETTA, Ga.—Having just finished a workout, Brian Randolph walked into Derek Cook’s office one morning late last week. Cook, Randolph’s football coach at Carlton J. Kell High School, handed him a folder containing a piece of paper.

On that piece of paper was yet another award for Randolph, Kell’s all-star running back, safety and return man and a Tennessee signee.

“I don’t know that there’s a more highly decorated player coming out of high school, in Georgia for sure, than Brian right now, in terms of the awards he’s received,” said Cook, who just finished his third season as the Longhorns’ coach.

Randolph’s list of accolades requires abbreviation. The highlights: Georgia’s Gatorade player of the year, the state defensive player of the year in the second-largest classification and Parade All-America honors.

Said Cook: “I can go on and on. I can’t remember all of them, there’s so many of them.”

Then there are Randolph’s senior-year numbers on offense (1,068 yards and 16 touchdowns rushing with 414 yards and two scores receiving), defense (162 tackles, four interceptions and nine pass breakups) and special teams (27-yard average and a touchdown on seven kick returns).

All that afforded the 6-foot, 190-pound Randolph little love from the popular recruiting services, however. Rivals.com, Scout.com or ESPN.com gave him no more than a three-star rating.

At the mention of the apparent slight, Randolph merely shakes his head.

“It’s pretty much useless to me,” he said. “It doesn’t really matter. I never really performed for them. Where they get information, I don’t care.”

But he’s fully aware of it. And so are apparently most of the other 1,800 or so students at Kell, some of whom kindly like reminding him of his status.

“They tease me about it,” Randolph said. “They say, ‘What’s up, Three Star?’ That’s what they call me. I like to think about it when I’m working out.”

Cook, a Marietta native who has been coaching high school football in north Georgia since he graduated from the University of Georgia in 1998, put the snub more bluntly.

“It’s a joke,” he said. “It’s completely a joke that he’s rated as a three-star player. ... I know very few of those guys have ever come to me and gotten a DVD or got my comments on him, and I see him every day. Now I may be a little biased because he’s our kid, but I also see what he does on the field, and I’m going to be honest with those guys and those recruiters just like I am all the time.

“In the long run it has actually benefited Brian and will continue to benefit Brian because he’s the kind of kid that uses that as motivation to prove people wrong. He would never come out and say it bothered him that he was a three-star player, but deep down in his gut it does and he’s out to annihilate those people that didn’t recruit him. The players that were ranked higher than him, he’s going to go out and prove that he’s a better player than them.

“He’s not concerned about what other people’s opinions of him are. I guarantee you he’d tell you no and say, ‘No, it’s not a big deal.’ He knows how good of a player he’s going to be.”

People skills

Randolph isn’t a big talker. Cook calls him a “homebody,” and Randolph’s recruitment serves as evidence. He went through his visits, picked UT in June before his senior year and that was that. Most schools backed off for the most part, Randolph said, to his relief.

“He wanted to make the decision, put it behind him and concentrate on having a great senior year and not being a distraction to himself or his teammates,” said Cook. “That’s what he did, and it ended up working out well for everybody.”

Randolph would probably label his demeanor more as shyness than being quiet.

“I’m really only like that when I’m around new people and new situations,” he said.

Playing football wouldn’t qualify as a new situation for Randolph, who’s been playing the sport since he was 6 years old at the urging of his father.

“He’s a quiet guy until that last [helmet] snap pops,” Cook said. “Once that last snap pops and you get behind that little banner right there and you’re about to do the run-through. Once you get to that point, he’s a different dude. He’s a different guy. That quiet flips a little bit and he becomes a different individual in terms of his people skills.”

“Do my best”

For all of Randolph’s abilities as a football player, it’s possible his abilities as a student reveal more about his character. He’s earned a 4.1 grade point average at Kell with a schedule that includes honors and advanced-placement courses on top of his responsibilities with football and track.

“One of the great moments of me coaching him,” Cook said, “was back in the back room talking to one of the coaches that was recruiting him. The guy asked him, ‘Brian, you’ve got a 4.1 GPA, you must really like school.’ Brian says, ‘Well ... not really. It’s not really my favorite thing.’

“That coach said something that was very revealing. He said, ‘Well, that says a lot about you as a person that you would work that hard at something and you’ve got a 4.1 GPA, but you really don’t like it that much and you’re not real passionate about it. That tells me that you have a lot of pride. Anything that your name is on you want it to be the best it can be because it’s a reflection of you.’ I had never thought of that.”

Randolph quite simply credits that drive to his parents.

“They don’t accept failure most of the time,” he said, “so I’ve got to do my best in everything I do.”

Said Cook: “I’ve never seen him come in second even in a conditioning drill. If we’re doing sprints, he’s going to be the first guy in his group.

“No matter what he is doing, he is always in first place because he cannot stand to have somebody come up to him and say, ‘Hey, I just beat you in that drill.’ He’d rather fight you than come in second, and that’s a great quality to have.

“He’s the kind of kid that is so incredibly competitive, he’s going to be the best wherever he plays.”

Where and how much Randolph plays for the Volunteers as a freshman is in his hands. The status of both starting safeties from last year remains in limbo: Janzen Jackson withdrew from the spring semester for personal reasons, and Brent Brewer awaits the conclusion of a investigation into his arrest for a domestic incident.

“It opens a lot of doors for me,” Randolph said. “If they’re not there when I get there, I can have a pretty good shot at getting a spot. It just means I’ve got to be ready for anything. I want to get on the field, make some plays and just become the best football player I can be.”

Which will be probably be closer to his awards list than his star rating.

about Patrick Brown...

Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...

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