“I was just released to start jogging,” said the Tennessee safety and former Kell standout, who admits he’s even “been trying to sprint a little bit.”
As he continues each day of rehab, the 6-foot-1, 195-pound true sophomore said he has drawn inspiration from Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson and his ability to return from a knee injury so quickly. Peterson, in fact, tore the anterior and medial collateral ligaments in his left knee on Christmas Eve 2011 and, less than nine months later, began a season that just ended with him coming within 9 yards of breaking the NFL’s single-season rushing record.
“That’s who we talk about every day,” Randolph said. “It makes me want to work hard and I don’t get down on myself.”
Knowing the severity of an ACL injury is hard enough physically, but it can be equally tough mentally — especially when a player realizes what happened as soon as the injury occurs.
That was the case for Randolph in September, as Tennessee was taking on Florida in Knoxville.
The Vols’ defense was lined up in man-to-man coverage, with Randolph as one of the safeties. Florida receiver Frankie Hammond caught a pass and broke free in the middle of the field.
Randolph had an angle on Hammond, but as he got close enough to make the tackle, Hammond cut back. At that point, Randolph planted his right leg with the hopes of pivoting and continuing the chase.
“I felt something pop,” Randolph said, “and I felt a pain go up my leg, and I knew right away it was bad.”
Randolph was on the field for some time while trainers attended to him, but he already knew.
“I told them I was done,” he said.
At the time of Randolph’s injury, he was in the process of making the jump to a potential all-Southeastern Conference level of play.
After a freshman season in which he had 55 tackles — good enough to make the SEC all-freshman team and be named a second-team freshman All-American — Randolph was leading Tennessee in tackles, with 22 through three games, and he had already broken up as many passes (two) as he had all of 2011.
Two weeks after his injury, Randolph underwent surgery, and he began rehab only two days later. The process started slow, with him riding a stationary bike for about 8 minutes and doing weight exercises.
“They had me hang my leg off the table, and they put a weight on it to help it regain my flexibility,” he said.
At first, Randolph had to lift his right leg with a 2-pound weight and bring it up until he touched his backside, which he said caused him the most pain. Now, however, he’s using a 16-pound weight.
In addition, Randolph has done a lot of work in the pool, and he’s fully confident that, when spring practice begins in late March, he will be on the field.
“I’ll be out there,” he said, “but I’ll be wearing a (non-contact) red jersey. I’ll go through all the drills with the guys, but I won’t participate in any of the contact. But just being there will be a big confidence-boost.”
Randolph, who has a 3.4 grade-point average and is on track for a business degree, said he has no plans to transfer after Tennessee’s change in coaches, from the fired Derek Dooley to recent hire Butch Jones.
Ironically, the injury may actually help Randolph in one aspect. He said it will actually be easier for him to learn incoming defensive coordinator John Jancek’s new defensive scheme, compared to that of former coordinator Sal Sunseri.
“I don’t think it’s going to be too bad,” Randolph said. “Not being there the whole season, I don’t still have the old defense in my head. The old defense was very complicated.”