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Receiver enjoys big returns in larger venue
Much like his punt return routes, Ean Randolph took a winding path from NAIA Webber to USF, and both parties are glad he did.
By GREG AUMAN
Published September 20, 2006
TAMPA - To appreciate how far he has come in the past two years, USF receiver Ean Randolph needs only to look into the stands after a touchdown.
In his first three years of college at Webber International, an NAIA program, Randolph had little problem finding his parents, Eddie and Eura, who made it to every game.
"There's something about seeing your parents in the crowd that just makes you feel good," the 22-year-old Durant graduate said. "Now I really can't. ... I look up to see if I can see them. I know they're there."
The crowds aren't the only thing bigger for Randolph, who has made the leap from anonymous small-college star to walk-on to the big-play threat that has helped the Bulls to a 3-0 start.
And yes, his parents are there.
"I've been going to his games since tee ball, and he's always been that quick," said Eddie Randolph, 58, who will travel to Kansas to watch USF on Saturday. "He has a special gift, and I always wanted to support that. He still amazes me."
In just three games with the Bulls, he has amazed a lot already. Just 5 foot 9 and 175 pounds, Randolph leads the Bulls in receptions (10) and yards (159) and returned a punt 76 yards for a touchdown, not counting three other returns for touchdowns that were negated by penalties.
On USF's first drive Saturday, Randolph juked one Central Florida defender after another, running parallel to the line of scrimmage before he cut upfield for a 51-yard gain. The play reminded his high school coach of how he could make you yell for entirely opposite reasons in seconds.
"That's just Ean," said David New, now athletic director at Lennard High in Ruskin. "He had that ability to make everyone miss. He'd try something where he shouldn't have, and you'd say: 'Stop doing that. Stop doing that!' and then he'd take off and you stop telling him to stop doing that."
Randolph starred in the same Durant backfield as USF cornerback Trae Williams, but when the colleges looked at Randolph, they saw his height first and looked elsewhere.
"Nobody recruited him," USF coach Jim Leavitt said, including his own program in the oversight.
Randolph's only scholarship offer came from Webber, which was building an NAIA program in Babson Park, near Lake Wales.
The program was only a club football team his first year, and Randolph's father said his son had been promised a full scholarship, but the school only provided about $4,000 in aid, leaving a difference of about $10,000 each year.
"It was kind of expensive going to that school," said Randolph, who transferred to USF in January 2005, even though he had no assurances of even making the team. He impressed coaches at an open tryout, earning a spot on the fall roster even though he had to sit out a year as a transfer. Without playing a down, Randolph showed enough that Leavitt put him on scholarship in January.
"I usually wait until fall, but I did it right away because I knew he was special, and he had worked so hard," said Leavitt, who now has Division I-A's third-best punt returner at 27.1 yards per return.
Hard work and a quiet voice are two things often identified in Randolph, who said he gets a lot of both from his father. Eddie Randolph originally planned to retire from his work at a phosphate plant at age 50, then 55. He has put it off, again and again, to help give his son a chance at his dream.
"He's always given me anything I wanted. I grew up spoiled that way," said Randolph, on pace to graduate with a degree in communications next year. "Hopefully, one day I'll be able to give back to him."
It's a long way to go for just one season in the spotlight, but for Randolph and his parents, it's something worth waiting for.
"I'm all right with one year. It feels good to be kind of where I want to be," he said, "but I'm still working."