By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
Young men don’t often have an epiphany. Usually it takes a couple decades of loss, heartbreak, failure and missing the mark on expectations before a man says to himself, “enough is enough. Whatever I’m doing now isn’t working, and I need to change.”
But Kenny Randall isn’t your normal mid-20s athlete. He’s been through a whole lot since his days at Mainland Regional High School. This spring Randall — who was a standout football and basketball player at Mainland — signed an NFL contract with the Jacksonville Jaguars as an undrafted free agent. Getting to the NFL was always a destination that Randall had in mind, but how he got to where he is today is a story of tragedy and triumph — of getting so low that the only way to go is up.
Flash back to the summer of 2011, young Kenny Randall and his Mainland teammates had just finished up the football preseason and were off to celebrate at an area eatery, a Mustangs tradition. He and seven teammates piled into an SUV, but only four of them came home that day. Casey Brenner, Dean Khoury, Edgar Bozzi and Nicholas Conner all were killed when the SUV they were riding in flipped during an auto accident on the Garden State Parkway.
Randall was just 15 at the time. A sophomore in high school.
Randall developed into a huge, menacing lineman in football and a surprisingly agile post player in basketball in the two years after the accident, and when it came time for college he had several offers, including one from Temple. He decided to go to a post-graduate school instead, for another year of seasoning. He eventually found himself at The College of Charleston.
But things didn’t go as planned.
“It’s been one for the books, I’ll tell you that,” Randall said of his journey to the NFL. “After high school, I went to Milford Academy and played there for a semester and then Temple took away their offer. I had committed to Temple after my junior year (at Mainland); and then my freshman year at Charleston I ended up letting academics get the best of me and got dismissed from the university.
“Obviously I think about that day a lot, who wouldn’t?” Randall said of that fateful day in August 2011, when four of his friends and teammates were killed. “But it was just being away from home, being away from my mom and being able to do what I wanted to do, and not really managing my time well. I was very immature at that age, but since then I’ve had a big wake-up call and have matured a lot. I have a son now and I’m dedicating everything I’ve got to him.”
After getting bounced from Charleston, Randall never imagined his dream of playing in the NFL would ever come true. He was down-and-out, working a job at Sam’s Club, out of shape, out of hope and out of motivation. His weight swelled up to nearly 400 pounds.
“I was trying to find something to do, but if I don’t have football, I don’t know what to do. I was depressed, didn’t know what I was going to do. I got into the routine of doing the same thing every day and it was getting boring,” Randall said. “Two years went by and I found myself working at Sam’s Club on the Black Horse Pike. But then I got really into my fitness, lost a bunch of weight — at one point I was down about 120 pounds. I hit up my defensive line coach at Charleston and asked if I could come back, and they welcomed me back with open arms.
“My second week of working at Sam’s Club, I woke up at 5:30 in the morning, went into work, put some chickens on the skewers and put them in the ovens, that was my rotation for the whole day, 5 o’clock came and I was like, ‘well, time to go home.’ It was just that routine of doing the same thing every day and I said to myself, ‘I can’t do this anymore.’ I didn’t have any time for the gym, didn’t have any time for friends. Getting fat and getting lazy — I didn’t want to be that anymore.”
Second chances don’t come around too often in life, and Randall said he wasn’t about to mess this one up. He ended up having a very good career at Charleston, as the 6-foot-1, 300-pound defensive tackle racked up 116 tackles in three seasons, including 32.5 tackles for loss and nine sacks. In 2019 he was second on the team with 64 tackles. He opted out of an abbreviated 2020 season to focus on preparing for the NFL draft.
“Everybody wanted to see what Kenny Randall was about because I lost all that weight, and they were like, ‘wow, this is a whole new person.’ My first day back at practice I ended up going out there and pancaking a 360-pound guy who was 6-foot-8, so I showed them what I was doing while I was gone, and they were very excited with what they saw,” he said. “I put in a lot of time and effort with my diet and at the gym. I’d wake up at 6 a.m. every day and go work out then go back again at 5 p.m. My morning would be running and my afternoon would be weights. It was a lot of dedication for what I wanted. I was tired of being a loser and I was tired of being a sloppy guy. At Mainland, everybody had expectations for me and I’m the type of guy that if I don’t fulfill those expectations I feel bad about myself and that hangs over my head for awhile.”
Randall said getting kicked out of the College of Charleston probably was the wake-up call that he needed.
“I had been passed through my whole life, from grade to grade, just because of my size and athleticism, so I really didn’t have anything to harp on myself about. I was always pushed through, so when I finally got to college they were like, ‘yeah, we’re not going to hold your hand. This is real life.’ It was a big wake-up call when they dismissed me,” he said. “They told me that I was getting a second chance, and not a lot of people get those, so I had to make the most of it. That first day I had my head on straight, told the coaches everything they wanted to hear, and as soon as the pads came on they didn’t regret their decision to bring me back. I was absolutely (surprised they took me back). When I left, I had a 1.6 GPA and I don’t think anybody in their right mind would have brought me back. I thank God for giving me the athleticism so they could even consider bringing me back.
“I approached them,” Randall explained. “I reached out to my line coach and told him I had been losing all this weight and he followed my journey the whole time on Instagram. He said, ‘I see what you’ve been doing and you’re definitely a different person now. If we take you back, I’m putting my neck on the line for you.’ And if somebody sticks their neck out for me, I’m going to do everything I can to pay them back, and that’s exactly what I did.”
Some people take advantage of second chances, others don’t. Kenny Randall certainly has, and now he’s in the process of embarking on a career in the NFL.
“I’m from Charleston so we went to college together, did homework together and studied. I had no idea he even played football until I went to a football game after we started dating. I realized he’s a bully and a beast on the field, but with our family he’s just a big Teddy bear. He’s awesome,” said Rochelle McCroskey, Randall’s fiance and the mother of his young son. “He’s been through so much. It’s been a journey for him to get to this point, but he’s loved the process and I’ve supported him. Our son motivates him like no other. He puts his family and everyone before him. If anyone needs help he’s the first person they can call and he’ll be there to help you out, guaranteed.”
“It’s definitely amazing, looking at my journey. Looking back now, I definitely didn’t think I’d be in this situation. In Division II you’re not really getting many looks. I thank John Kaminski, the former defensive end who went (to Charleston) for opening the door for people like me to get into the NFL. It’s definitely amazing, thinking about where I am now,” Randall said. “I’m excited. Talking to all these NFL coaches in Zoom meetings (prior to the draft), I’ve been w orking for this since I was 6 years old and it’s everything I’ve dreamed about. I’m excited. All these coaches ask me if I care if a guy I’d be going up against went to Auburn or Clemson or wherever, and I don’t care about that. I’m a bully when I go into the trenches and I’m going to work ten times harder than whoever is in front of me.”
And if, by chance, Randall finds himself getting bullied by some huge offensive lineman this fall, he’ll have all the motivation he’ll ever need to get back in there the next play and go toe-to-toe with that opponent in front of him. These days, Randall’s motivation comes in the form of his 1-year-old son, Kainyon.
“I can’t put enough appreciation on that because I grew up without a father. Every day I wake up and give him a kiss on the forehead to start my day. Everything is brand new and I’m taking it day by day,” Randall said. “Having a kid does a lot. When you’re trying to get into the NFL, doing these crazy workouts, working hard, you have to really dig deep and find something that pushes you. Why are you really doing this? Why are you putting everything you have into this? I just look at him, and that keeps me going. I’ll sprint 10 times harder when I think about him.
“I hope people see me for the athlete I am. I want to go into the NFL and make a name for myself, coming from D II, I just want to show everybody what I’ve got and exceed expectations. It gives me the chills thinking about (playing in the NFL). I’m getting chills right now thinking about it,” he added. “Coming from Mainland, then getting dismissed from Charleston, working at Sam’s Club and now I’m here — it’s a story that nobody would believe unless you told them yourself. It’s amazing. I’m just grateful to be here and I’m taking every opportunity and running with it. I definitely took the long road to get here. It hasn’t been the easiest journey, but I’m glad I made that journey because it made me the man I am today.”
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @GDsullysays