Career path change suits Randall

For all intent and purposes Damarious Randall was never supposed to end up on Arizona State's football team or any other Division I squad in that sport for that matter. He was all but destined to follow in the footsteps of his brother and embark on a baseball career. Life circumstances forced him to make the shift to football, a sport that he seemingly excelled at despite limited experience.

In high school, Damarious Randall was (no surprise) a three-sport athlete participating in the two aforementioned sports as well as track. By his own admission he had both football and baseball as his co-favorites, but during his senior year when his brother was selected in the MLB draft Randall's parents pushed him to pursue baseball in earnest. Moreover he indicated to any college program recruiting him at football that he wasn't going to play that sport at the next level.

"I didn't get drafted out of high school in baseball," Randall said. "I had a lot of high interest but shoulder injury messed things up for me. I was the pitcher and I hurt my rotator cuff and I also played shortstop. But I was going to follow my brother's footsteps and go play at Butler Community College. That is where my brother played when he got drafted.

"I also went to Butler because they told me about the rehab program that they were going to have for me to get my shoulder better. When I got there my shoulder was feeling OK and I did play fall ball, but I also felt that my shoulder wasn't feeling good enough for me to play throughout the season. I was trying my best but for the first ten games of the season my shoulder was killing me."

At that time, in the spring of 2011, when Randall realized that his baseball career was effectively over, he did contemplate playing football at Butler, a school who has one the strongest programs in at the junior college level. However, since he came to Butler on a baseball scholarship he didn't get his head coach's blessing to participate in football. Ultimately that was the reason Randall decided to leave Butler.

"I went back home for a few months and started to get my shoulder right," Randall recalled. "I was still hoping to play baseball because I knew that is where I could make a better living. But when I was watching college football games on TV, the thought that was going through my head: ‘that should be me playing there.' I just knew that the guys I was watching were not better than me.

"So that is when I decided that I was going to play football and I was working on getting healthy and sending out my film to a bunch of junior colleges. I know I had to go the JUCO route so I can get to where I need to go. I have problems throwing with an overhead motion, but otherwise my shoulder was all right and I could play football with it. I just couldn't throw a baseball everyday."

Mesa Community College was one of the first schools he sent his film out to and consequently the Phoenix-area junior college was one of the programs who contacted him early in the process.

"I knew that the school was close to where my brother was staying at," Randall commented. So why not go out the West Coast and try out this football thing? When I was in high school I had big time schools recruiting me. One time in 2009 I was called to the football coach's office, because Urban Meyer (who coached at the University of Florida at the time) was calling for me. But I was blowing it off because I thought I was going to play baseball. That was my goal."

The Arizona Community College Athletic Conference (ACCAC) is considered one the premier junior college football leagues in the country and is often statured with players who eventually receive scholarship offers to BCS conference schools, let alone Division I programs.

However, the 6-0 185-pound Randall in his first ever year of playing the sport at that level, as well as being removed from competitively playing it for the last two years prior to his arrival at Mesa CC, had no problems bursting on the scene in very dramatic fashion.

His stellar sophomore season in 2012, saw him totaled 69 tackles (50 solo) with 17 total passes defended (nine interceptions, eight pass breakups), 3.0 tackles for loss, three quarterback hurries, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery, and averaging 18.4 yards on punt returns with five total touchdowns (two receiving, two punt returns, one interception return).

Randall led MCC with 1,078 all-purpose yards, averaging 98.0 per game and was named an NJCAA First-Team All-American, Defensive Player of the Year and a First-Team All-Conference member at cornerback and on returns and a First-Team All-Western States Football League (WSFL) pick at both cornerback and on returns.

"I'm not going to sit here and say that I wasn't surprised," Randall said of his achievements at Mesa, "because I very well was. But that goes back to the thing that I was always a football player. I'm not going to say that it was easy putting up those numbers, but I trained so hard during the summer to get my body ready for this and I just felt good on the field."

How dominant was Randall last season? He was moved from cornerback to free safety when his coaches realized that opposing offenses weren't throwing in his direction anymore, and they wanted to utilize his speed and ball hawking skills to continue and benefit the defense in other ways.

"The beginning of the season a lot of schools didn't know about me," Randall noted, "So they were throwing the ball to my side a lot and I had something like seven picks in the first five games. Then quarterbacks didn't even look at my side. Before our game against Arizona Western, the quarterback came up to me and said that he wasn't going to throw to my side."

Randall admitted that this position move was a great compliment to his skills, and further validation on his play came n the form of several scholarship offers that started pouring in from schools as such Kansas, Louisville, Minnesota, Nebraska, Oklahoma, San Diego State, South Florida, Southern Miss, TCU, and Washington State.

Arizona State wasn't the first school to offer Randall, although they did do fairly early compared to many other programs, yet the Sun Devils had already grabbed the defensive back's attention much before then.

"Even before I knew I was going to Mesa I told my friends that I was going to play for Arizona State," Randall stated. "People were looking at me crazy saying ‘why out of all schools Arizona State?'. I just liked the environment from watching them on TV and I just knew that if I went there I could make an impact. I knew they had a great fan base that all they want to do is have their team win and I wanted to help them do that.

"My dad, who wanted me to play baseball, asked me if I was going to Arizona State because of their good baseball program but I just don't want to think about that. I'm strictly focusing on football, but baseball is a sport I definitely enjoy watching so I'm going to check out some of ASU's games."

Randall said that despite the apparent early seed that was planted in his conscious about ASU, that the recruiting process itself with the Sun Devils truly showed him that this program was the best fit for him.

"To get where I want to go ASU was the best opportunity for me," Randall said. "I feel that I can help them go where we need to go. I was already living out here so why leave? I was thinking about maybe playing closer home in Florida, but I also know that if I did that I would have a lot of distractions. I know my dad wanted me to play at Florida State which is just 2.5 hours from my home.

"But I had to make the best decision for me, and Arizona State was definitely the best decision."

It wasn't only the environment that drew Randall to the maroon and gold, but also the play of its secondary last season, where ASU's pass defense finished the year ranked fifth nationally in that category.

"I love their attacking style defense," Randall commented. "That fits right into what I like to do. I like to put pressure up on people. It's like my brother tells me ‘pressure busts pipes.'

Often times junior college transfers don't have a smooth path en route to their first year of Division I football, and this was no different with Randall. The safety had to take a summer school class and was only ruled academically eligible at the beginning of fall camp. However, a groin injury suffered prior to camp had him sidelined for the last few weeks and only in yesterday's practice was he able to finally participate in a team segment.

"It felt great. I've missed the whole camp with a little injury or whatever and basically just been rehabbing it every day because they don't want to rush me back," Randall said. "So I've just been getting back into the groove of everything. I've been taking thousands and thousands of mental reps and I basically know the entire defense. I'm just ready to get back on the field and I'm excited to play."

Randall added that while his groin feels "great" right now that he is still questionable for Thursday's season opener versus Sacramento State.

"It's probably a 50-50 chance, depending on what Coach Graham says," Randall remarked. "They really don't want to rush me back because of the schedule and it's really for the Wisconsin game. So, I don't know."

Randall is fully aware of the team's need for a starting field safety, a position that Todd Graham has mentioned as an area of concern dating back to spring practice. An apparent long term shoulder injury to true freshman Marcus Ball, who was slated as the starter during camp, has only heightened the sense of urgency at this role.

Nonetheless, as someone who in baseball was a closer when he took the mound, Randall naturally relishes in pressure situations and doesn't feel an extra burden to come back and fill the void as quickly as possible.

"It was really all just a mental thing with my groin," Randall explained. "There really wasn't any pressure because me and Marcus are kind of like best friends on the team. We know, probably, in the future, that we're going to have a few years together back there at safety. Me and him got a good bond though."

Yet, no one should interpret the unrushed sense Randall feels as lack of great anticipation for the 2013 season. After all, we are talking about a player who even while attending MCC did live in Tempe and could see Sun Devil Stadium everyday from his apartment window.

"I'm so excited," Randall stated. "It's just like coming in from the recruiting process, everything was high. And then I just hit a little dip with the injury but I've been focused and just had my head up and really just trying to help out Robert (Nelson) at the field safety position. He is probably going to be the starter for the first game. It'll probably be Rob or Laiu (Moeakiola). I've just been trying to help both of them out. Laiu knows most of everything already so I've really been just trying to help out Rob."

With everything that transpired in the last few years, does Randall still think of what could have been if he didn't have that shoulder injury and was able to follow in his brother's footsteps and embark on a baseball career?

"I can't say I'm happy with what happened because I felt that at the time I was getting closer to my goals," Randall said of his baseball career. "But at the same time I think everything that has happened to me made me a better man. And now I will be playing every Saturday at that stadium I've been looking at everyday for the last year.

"What else can I ask for?"



Recruit Profile

Name

Damarious Randall

Junior College Mesa (Ariz.) Community College



Position

Safety

Height

6-0

Weight

185

Date of Birth

8/29/92

Birthplace

Pensacola, Fla.

Nickname

"Drip"

Favorite TV Show

"Sponge Bob"

Favorite Movie

"Final Destination"

Favorite Singer

"Lil Wayne"

Favorite Food

"Chicken"

Favorite Drink

"Gatorade"

Favorite Athlete

"Jimmy Rollins"

Favorite Pro Team

"Detroit Pistons"

Person you most admire

"My dad. He has always been there for me and always wanted what is best for me. He wanted me to play baseball, but supported me when I decided to play football. When I came home after my injury and was just sitting around the house for a couple of weeks, he told me that I should go and work out. He didn't let me rest. He never gave up on me. He's the reason all these good things are happening for me now.

First Football Memory

"I was four years old when I first played. I wasn't that good and I was playing against kids that were 7 and 8. My dad was the football coach and I just never wanted to leave the football field. So I would go in for a couple of plays."

One Thing most people don't know about me

"I graduated high school when I was 17."

Why did you choose ASU?

"Depth chart."

Where do you want to be in ten years?

"Playing in the NFL and being one of the best safeties year in and year out. If I don't play in the NFL I would like to go into the service." Byron Kline contributed to this article


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