Belleville West junior Keith Randolph Jr. loves basketball and has been a huge part of the Maroons’ success on the court, but football will be his focus in the future.
Since Monday, the 6-foot-5, 240-pound Randolph, a defensive end, has received Division I scholarship offers from Wyoming, Missouri State, Ball State, Southern Illinois University Carbondale, Northern Illinois, Western Michigan and Illinois State.
Before that, Randolph’s only offer was from Lindenwood-Belleville.
“The football offers have been coming in pretty fast,” Randolph, 16, said Thursday. “At first, I always thought of myself as a basketball player. Basketball is everything. I never thought football offers — football, period — would come into my life.”
Wyoming was the first of the new offers. It was followed by Northern Illinois, Central Michigan, SIUC, Ball State and Missouri State. Illinois State offered Thursday.
All of this despite Randolph, a transfer from Christian Brothers College High in St. Louis, being extremely raw. The 2017 season was his first at any level of high school football.
Randolph’s size, speed, strength and high motor are appealing to college coaches. Growth potential remains, too, with Randolph anticipating he could reach 290 pounds.
“As big as I am, I’m still fast and I’m able to get around an offensive lineman,” said Randolph, who had 38 tackles and one sack last season as the Maroons finished 6-4.
Randolph is under no pressure to make a decision, but he senses the recruiting game could become hectic between now and the end of the year, perhaps into 2019.
“The offers are rolling in right now, (but) I don’t want to commit anywhere too quick,” Randolph said. “I haven’t been on any (official) visits anywhere yet. So I’m just going to take my time with the process. It’s going to get pretty stressful. It’s stressing me out now, and I only have seven offers. When they start coming in, like the big schools, and start offering me, and as I go on visits, it’s going to be fun but stressful at the same time.”
Wyoming made its offer over the phone. Former West star Brian Hill was a running back at Wyoming and last April was selected in the fifth round of the NFL draft by the Atlanta Falcons.
Hill set Wyoming career rushing records in yards (4,287) and touchdowns (35). He was waived by the Falcons in October and signed with the Cincinnati Bengals in November.
Another local player, Althoff graduate CJ Coldon, is a cornerback with Wyoming who redshirted as a freshman last fall. Randolph, meanwhile, said he always will remember Wyoming as the first Division I school make an offer.
“If they wouldn’t have offered me, I probably still wouldn’t have the offers that I have now,” Randolph said. “They started it all. They know how much I can grow as a player.”
The temptation to wait for an offer from a larger school is strong, and Randolph indeed has that on his mind. However, he is aware that bigger isn’t always better.
“It’s not always about the biggest school. It’s where I would feel at home, where I would actually play and where the coaches would help me develop as a player,” Randolph said.
Randolph, who is leaning toward majoring in journalism, is the son of Keith Sr. and Kimberly Randolph. Keith Sr. is a police officer in East St. Louis; Kimberly is a teacher at Officer Elementary School in East St. Louis.
Randolph is averaging 10.5 points and 6.9 rebounds for the basketball team, which is 18-2 overall and 8-0 in the Southwestern Conference. West is ranked third in the Class 4A state poll.
“My main focus is basketball. I have to keep my mind on that and school,” Randolph said.
When Randolph transferred to West, he never considered football would be an option.
“EJ Liddell was here, and he was a high recruit,” Randolph said of the 6-7 junior who has received 13 Division I offers in basketball. “I thought some of the basketball coaches, while they were looking at him, would also notice me. Maybe they wouldn’t talk to me or offer me, but talk around. All the coaches talk.
“But (West football coach Cameron) Pettus basically sold the sport of football to me. He told me I could be a great player. I blew it off my sophomore year because I was like, ‘I’m a basketball player. That’s what I came here for.’ I didn’t want to get hurt. But I decided to play, and it worked out perfectly.”