Pro-style QB leads Holy Cross revival
WORCESTER - It’s another boffo morning in the dusty, cramped football offices on the second floor of the Holy Cross Field House - a building that served as an airplane hangar in Davisville, R.I., during World War II.
Coach Tom Gilmore is on the phone, plotting for tomorrow’s Patriot League winner-take-all game against Lafayette. Across the narrow corridor, assistant coaches are in the common room, munching on doughnuts supplied by a scout from the Philadelphia Eagles.
“I guess it’s an unwritten rule that the scouts bring doughnuts for the coaches,’’ says senior quarterback Dominic Randolph. “So Coach was pretty pumped this morning.’’
Randolph is the reason the pro scouts come to Worcester. He’s the best football player in New England and has a chance to play in the National Football League next year.
It has been a while since anybody from the NFL visited Mt. Saint James.
Back in the 1950s and ’60s, Holy Cross regularly scheduled Syracuse, Boston College, Penn State, Rutgers, and Pitt. In 1946, Holy Cross played Miami in the Orange Bowl. The ’46 Crusader quarterback was Gene DeFilippo, father of today’s BC athletic director.
Those days have gone the way of the $200 annual tuition bill. Division 1 football is big business with boosters, stadiums, TV deals, and full scholarships - schools like Boston College. Holy Cross has none of the above.
There are approximately 1,260 male students at Holy Cross, and it wouldn’t make much sense to have 7 percent of them on football scholarships. The Cross went to Division 1-AA in 1982, joined the Patriot League in 1986, and offered its last football scholarships in 1988. Longtime rival BC was taken off the schedule in 1987.
While this unfolded, old-school alums howled (“We never lost to Colgate in my day!’’) and Fitton Field crowds thinned to high school size. From 1993-2004, the downsized program endured 10 losing seasons.
“It was a dark, dark time in Holy Cross football,’’ concedes Gilmore, who came on board in 2004.
Now the Cross is back. In a small way. The 8-1 Crusaders are ranked 13th in the nation in Division 1 FCS (i.e. Division 1-AA) and can secure their first NCAA playoff bid since 1983 with a victory at home tomorrow. And much to the delight of the hungry-for-past-glory alums, Holy Cross has a quarterback who is better than anyone playing at Chestnut Hill.
Randolph is easily the Cross’s best player since Gordie Lockbaum, who finished third in the Heisman Trophy balloting in 1987. Working out of the no-huddle spread offense, Randolph this season has completed 227 of 349 passes for 2,810 yards and 28 touchdowns in nine games. He also has run for 426 yards on 87 carries, scoring five touchdowns. He’s one of the favorites to win the Walter Payton Award (the Heisman for Division 1-AA). He finished ninth last year, while winning the Gold Helmet and Bulger Lowe awards as the best player in New England.
Not bad for a kid who started only two games at quarterback in high school.
Randolph hails from Amelia, Ohio, not far from Cincinnati. He went to St. Xavier High School, where he was the backup for Rob Schoenhoft, ranked the sixth-best high school quarterback in the nation.
After starring at St. Xavier, Schoenhoft went to Ohio State. When things didn’t work out in Columbus, Schoenhoft transferred to Delaware. He eventually retired from football because of multiple concussions.
Randolph? Unrecruited, unnoticed, and well-rested - not to mention 6-foot-2 and 223 pounds - he has made Worcester a destination for every NFL team. And he remains generous toward the kid who played ahead of him in high school.
“I’d like to contest it, but he was getting looks from all the big schools,’’ says Randolph. “He was 6-5, 240 pounds in high school. He had a cannon. How could you not like that in high school?’’
It was hard for Dominic’s father to be gracious. Charlie Randolph played high school football in Cincinnati, where the crowds are bigger than the crowds at Fitton Field. Charlie was a defensive tackle on Michigan’s 1976 Orange Bowl team. He knows football, and it wasn’t fun watching his talented son ride the bench in high school. It’s safe to say that in any sport, most pro prospects are starters in high school.
“It was tough,’’ says Charlie, who makes the 14-hour drive with his wife, Rose, for every Holy Cross game. “I was torn between my supposed knowledge of the game and my fatherhood. Nobody wanted to be around me. My dad would try to make me feel better. I’d tell him, ‘I don’t want to hear that God has a plan. I want to complain that life is unfair.’
“Now I just say that Dominic was a late bloomer. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.’’
In the summer after his junior year of high school, Randolph went to a football camp at Harvard. After the camp, he and his dad took a day trip to Worcester and met Coach Gilmore. It was a perfect match.
Randolph was fifth on the quarterback depth chart when Holy Cross coaches first noticed him in the spring games after he sat out his first year as a medical redshirt (high ankle sprain). He flourished in the spread offense. He has started every game since the beginning of his freshman season and he will retire as the most decorated player in Holy Cross history.
He has noticed that Lee Corso and Friends haven’t been seen near Pakachoag Hill. Does Randolph have any regrets about playing at small-time Holy Cross, a place where kids actually go to the library on Friday nights?
“It’s a tough school, but it teaches you more about the real world,’’ says the quarterback. “The professors are always there for you if you need them. I like the community environment. Sometimes I wish it was a little bigger, but there’s not much I would change.
“I wish we had more fans here, obviously. That’s the frustrating part. Our goal is to fill the stadium, but that’s not working out right now.’’
He lives a couple of minutes from campus and has been active in the local Big Brothers and Sisters program for three years. Randolph’s Little Brother is Franky, an 11-year-old fifth grader who goes to all the Holy Cross games. The quarterback sees Franky every week and has recruited 50 teammates to mentor little guys. The Holy Cross football team has single-handedly erased the Big Brother waiting list in Central Massachusetts.
Randolph hopes to play in one of the senior showcase bowls after the season, and plans to stick around campus for workouts while he awaits BC’s Pro Day (no Pro Day at Holy Cross) and the NFL draft in April. He’ll graduate with a degree in economics and accounting and has a job lined up back home with
“Football’s not life,’’ he says with a smile. “Some time, you’re going to have to put the football down. But I’m certainly going to try. I know I don’t have the arm of Donovan McNabb or Tom Brady, but I think I can play.’’
Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at email@example.com.