Two years ago, if a coach from Michigan State called to offer Keith Randolph a scholarship, it would have been Tom Izzo. But since then, the Belleville (Ill.) West senior decided to try football and has become one of the top uncommitted recruits in the Midwest, rising to a level of offers and attention he was unlikely to attain on the basketball court.
Last week, the East Lansing number he called belonged to Mark Dantonio, not Izzo, and Randolph was offered a scholarship by Michigan State’s football team. Virginia also offered recently, joining existing offers from Illinois, Minnesota, Rutgers and others.
“He was walking around the hall as a sophomore and I said, ‘Keith, buddy, have you ever thought about playing football?’” Belleville West head coach Cameron Pettus said. “And he goes, 'Yeah, I thought about it.' And I said, 'With a body like yours, you need to.' And he says 'Why?' And I said, 'Because you’re 6-foot-4, 255 pounds and you can jump out of the gym. I don’t know how that’s going to work out in basketball, but in football, it’s special.' So he ended up coming out and he was phenomenal. He is just a freak of nature, a great kid and an unbelievable athlete for sure.”
Illinois was his first scholarship offer and the Illini have been building a relationship with Randolph, a defensive end, for a long time. As it stands, the Illini appear to be one of the Spartans’ top competitors.
“I think he still respects Illinois because they believed in him first, so he has a lot of respect for those guys and then him understanding what kind of program Michigan State is, that has really gone a long way with him and his family,” Pettus said.
With football season in full swing, Randolph is not putting much focus on recruiting. He is looking to take game-day visits to Illinois and Michigan State before the fall is done.
As for a decision, that is not likely to come until his own football season is completed.
The recent offers from Michigan State and Virginia may not be the end as Pettus’ phone has been ringing steadily. Colleges have been able to see the raw talent shown as a junior begin to develop further as a senior and the trajectory is exciting.
“He understands the game more,” Pettus said. “He’s more confident. He understands his technique, he uses his hands. He’s always had a great motor and obviously, great athletic ability, but he’s really starting to understand the technical aspect of football, which has helped him out immensely and made him elevate himself to the next level.”
Recently, another light bulb came on.
Randolph realized if he keeps working, he has the tools to play in the NFL. Pettus told him that is absolutely the case. Now he just has to find the right school to help him continue to capitalize on his potential.
“I think he’s a kid who is still trying to figure out the football world,” Pettus said. “He’s a kid who might not have grown up understanding — like I’m from Georgia so I kind of understand football differently than some kids do or basketball guys but I think he’s starting to understand what the game’s all about, what the power programs are all about and who can actually help him develop as a player.”
The 247Sports Composite ranks Randolph as the No. 9 senior in the state of Illinois.
Allen Trieu covers Midwest football recruiting for 247Sports. He has been featured on the Big Ten Network on its annual Signing Day Show. His Michigan and Michigan State recruiting columns appear weekly at detroitnews.com.