July 7, 2008
By John W. Gearan
Holy Cross Magazine
He must have felt as if he were trapped in a Volkswagen stuck behind a school bus. He had hit an unexpected traffic snarl on one lane to nowhere special, his destination uncertain, with no detour in sight.
Suddenly Dominic Randolph's football career seemed stymied.
Randolph had always envisioned a clear path to success. A versatile athlete, he had developed nicely in football since quarterbacking his sixth-grade team. He had grown and improved his throwing in junior high. As a sophomore, he flashed signs of natural leadership, directing his jayvee team to an undefeated 9-0 season. As a junior, he was confident he could orchestrate powerhouse St. Xavier of Cincinnati to a state championship. Then he would be on his way to a Big Ten scholarship.
However Randolph found himself road-blocked. Before him loomed Rob Schoenhoft, a wide-bodied classmate who stood 6-foot-5-inches tall, weighed 240 pounds and had realistic dreams of becoming a big-time quarterback.
Schoenhoft had the supersize that pro scouts drool over. His unusual agility would be confirmed when he would lead St. Xavier's to the state basketball finals. Schoenhoft had been stamped a stud, rated one of the top prospects in the country after dazzling everyone at a football meat market known as the Elite 11 Camp in California.
Always a team player, Randolph accepted his role as a backup quarterback while also performing as a wide receiver. While catching touchdown passes from Schoenhoft, Randolph's inner desire to throw them did not diminish. As seniors, Schoenhoft, Randolph and their St. Xavier's Bombers rolled to an undefeated season before they were upended in round two of the Division 1 state playoffs.
"I began to feel I had fallen into that parental trap and over-estimated the talents of my son. I was mad at the world because he wasn't playing quarterback,'' admits his dad, Charles Dominic Randolph.
But the family's elder, Dominic Charles Randolph, held a different view of his grandson's future.
"Give it time," grandpa Randolph would advise sagely, "everything will turn out for the best."
Dominic Randolph grew up in the open spaces of Amelia, Ohio, a few miles outside of Cincinnati and a hoot and a holler from Kentucky. The only son of Charlie and Rose Randolph, Dominic was sandwiched between his two sisters: Andrea, now a teacher in North Carolina, and Nina, heading into her second year at Ohio University.
His dad, one of nine children, still lives with Rose in the same house where he grew up and where they raised their own family. Charlie had gained all-around athletic acclaim at St. Xavier's, a highly regarded Jesuit prep school. He played backup tackle for Bo Schembeckler at the University of Michigan. He also did some kicking and punting. His only mini-claim to fame was recovering a fumble against Navy in 1974.
"I guess I was the proverbial little fish in a big pond,'' quips Charlie, who now runs a general contracting firm that absorbed his father's plumbing business.
Dominic had a wonderland childhood, playing on the 33-acre lot owned by his grandparents adjacent to his house. On homemade fields, he and his cousins and friends played soccer, baseball and even some football as his dad had erected goalposts there. Dad coached him in basketball, baseball and football in youth leagues. Mom chauffeured him everywhere.
"I might have been a little too serious,'' recalls his dad with a smile. "I remember driving him to basketball games when he was in the fourth grade. I would make him listen to classical music like Mozart in the car. I'd tell him to close his eyes, relax and visualize making a winning foul shot. And he would do it.''
Charlie encouraged Dominic to kick.
"I remember Dominic hurt his wrist and was out for a game as a sixth grader," he recalls. "I knew Dominic couldn't stand watching. I was an assistant coach so I convinced the head coach to let Dominic try an extra point. Nobody tried kicking extra points at that level, but Dominic booted one right through the uprights. Our opponents were so shocked they never made a rush to block the kick!''
In high school, Dominic wanted no part of kicking.
"They're specialists now and spend all their time on the sidelines practicing,'' he explained to his dad. Dominic wanted to play regular. Dominic wanted action. Dominic wanted to run the show.
His plans, however, hit a roadblock. His dreams would have to take a detour.
His dad re-adjusted his hopes. Maybe not The Big Ten, Charlie Randolph thought. Maybe not Ohio State, where superstar Rob Schoenhoft was ticketed for the fall of 2005. Maybe a notch down, maybe in the Mid-American Conference at Ohio University. Maybe, maybe, maybe ...
"Give it time," grandpa Randolph would advise sagely. "Everything will turn out for the best."
Destiny can be very quirky. Though mired behind Schoenhoft, Randolph had not given up; he figured someone might notice other qualities in him.
Before his junior season, his dad had brought his son to a football camp at his alma mater, the University of Michigan.
"I did not want Dominic to be overly impressed with stars coming from all over the country," he says. "I wanted him to know `they all bruise just like you.'"
There, Dominic listened to a talk by Tom Brady, a former backup QB at Michigan. Brady had been a sixth-round Patriots draft pick before he reached NFL stardom.
"If coaches judged me just by my times in the 40-yard dash, I wouldn't be in the NFL," Brady told the campers, advising them to "hang in there."
Brady's message motivated Randolph even more.
"We learned something about the recruiting process," Charlie says. "College coaches don't always have time to see everyone. Often, they see a kid at a camp throwing a football through tires or running a 40-yard dash. But very often they don't get to observe the intangibles."
Oftentimes, student-athletes must search out the right school for them. A friend of Charlie's brother suggested sending Dominic to a football camp at Harvard. An honor-roll student and an excellent all-around athlete at a premier prep school, Dominic might interest a college such as Harvard.
His dad did some calculating. Maybe the family could go on a vacation to New England, tour Boston a bit and give Dominic a chance to display his wares at Harvard. And while they were in the area, why not swing by another school? Had not Holy Cross, which regularly taps Xavier and other Jesuit prep schools for talent, sent Dominic a feeler, inviting him to its 2003 summer camp?
Dad mailed Harvard a check for its camp. He sent a letter to Holy Cross asking if Dominic could drop by after the Harvard camp concluded. "We got a reply telling Dominic to bring a medical waiver and his helmet," says Charlie.
Randolph loved Holy Cross, its friendliness, its size. He thought it would be a perfect fit. So did his dad.
Head coach Tom Gilmore and his staff understood there was no shame in being a backup to Schoenhoft in a big-time program like Xavier's. They noticed Dominic's intangibles -- his poise, his demeanor, his composure, his confidence. With work on his techniques and conditioning, Dominic could increase his velocity, improve his accuracy. And he had something you can't teach, athletic intuition. He had a natural feel for football. He could visualize plays, read defenses, play without panic.
"I worked out and threw pretty well,'' recalls Randolph. "Some guy came over and started talking with me. He gave me some words of advice and encouragement. I didn't know it then, but I was talking to Coach Gilmore."
Gilmore didn't want Dominic to get away.
"Working one-on-one with him, we knew he was a great kid from a great school. He had great potential. We figured he would be a starter at any other school. Why not take a chance on him?" recalls Gilmore. He followed Randolph's performance during his senior season, watching games on film, especially those when Dominic subbed for Schoenhoft.
He knew he had a diamond in the rough.
Dominic's Crusader career has been storybook.
While Schoenhoft was being red-shirted as a freshman at Ohio State, a Big Ten hero-in-waiting, Randolph was developing his 6-foot-3, 210-pound physique and learning from talented starter John O'Neill.
During the spring practice of 2006, a quarterback blossomed.
Holy Cross was changing its philosophy, spreading out to a pro-style offense with a wide-open scheme that would emphasize passing.
"Dominic opened everyone's eyes. He was quick and consistent, always throwing to the right person at the right spot," Gilmore says.
That fall, during his debut game against Georgetown, Randolph injured his ankle and missed the next two games. After coming off the bench at Marist, Randolph returned to the starting lineup against Fordham, inspiring the Crusaders to an impressive 28-21 victory. He has been a wunderkind since. The next week against Brown, Randolph threw for 4 touchdowns and 329 yards. Then came the stirring overtime triumph over Dartmouth, unbeaten in the Ivy League. Against Lafayette, he threw for another 4 touchdowns, chalking up 352 passing yards. He was named ECAC Offensive Player of the Week -- and won the Boston Globe Gold Helmet Award. In an abbreviated season, the sophomore threw for 2,237 yards and 19 TDs, completing 184 of 299 passes.
Last season, tri-captain Randolph became "The Man," throwing for 30 touchdowns, and 3,604 yards with only eight interceptions. He was crowned the Patriot League Offensive Player of the Year. A cool customer, Randolph threw a game-winning 40-yard touchdown to Thomas Harrison with 19 seconds on the Fitton Field clock to beat Harvard. He wowed the homecoming crowd. He wowed everyone, all season long.
"He has amazing decision-making ability,'' says Gilmore. "He reads defenses so well and can look off primary receivers and find his third and fourth options."
Randolph is being touted as a leading candidate for the Walter Payton Award, given to the best offensive player in the NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision (FCS).
He will have a target on his back this season. "Dominic has become a big fish in a smaller pond," his dad observes.
Randolph welcomes the challenge. He says he will work this summer on getting his feet quicker, improving his arm strength. The accounting major will also work again as an intern at General Electric in Lynn. He is keeping his options open for the future. The NFL will likely give him a serious look because of his Brady-like accuracy and poise. But right now he is focusing on his final year on the Hill.
His last year could be special for him and his Crusaders. He'll serve as a team co-captain and will challenge records. He ranks first in all-time completion percentage (.616) and, with 49 TD passes, he could very well shatter Tom Ciaccio's career mark of 72 TD throws.
The Crusaders' goal is to win the Patriot League and reach the FCS playoffs.
Meanwhile, Rob Schoenhoft has left Ohio State. Last season, as Todd Beckman's backup, he completed 17 passes in 25 attempts. For the BCS national championship game against LSU, redshirt Antonio Hinton was promoted to No. 2 quarterback and Schoenhoft was relegated to scout-team tight end.
Wisely, Schoenhoft left the big-time, transferring to Delaware, a 2007 FSC finalist. He wants to compete for the job as Delaware starting quarterback.
Wouldn't it be something if Randolph and Schoenhoft met again, down the road in the FSC playoffs?
Coach Gilmore smiles at the proposition.
"Who knows?" he says. "But I know there is one kid wearing a purple uniform who would just love that!"
Destiny can be very quirky as Randolph and Schoenhoft both well know.
As grandpa Randolph would say, "Give it time. Everything will turn out for the best."
This article originally appeared in the Summer 2008 issue of Holy Cross Magazine.
John W. Gearan '65, was an award-winning reporter and columnist at the Worcester Telegram and Gazette for 36 years. He resides in Woonsocket, R.I., with his wife, Karen Maguire, and their daughter, Molly.