Few college football programs in America can match the consistent success at the defensive tackle position that the Texas Longhorns have enjoyed in recent years.
Last year, it was Lamarr Houston starring at the position, and with Houston now suiting up for the Oakland Raiders, Texas will be looking for a new name to shine in 2010. The guy that's being called upon to lead the charge is Kheeston Randall, who drew the praise of the defensive coaching staff over the course of the spring.
At 6-5 and 295 pounds, Randall towers over most defensive tackles, but it's his agility and quickness that make him tough handle for offensive linemen. Now in his third year in the Longhorn program, Randall showed flashes of his talent in 2009, starting 10 games on a Longhorn defense that was one of the best in college football.
Looking forward to 2010, Randall will be counted on to help lead a defense that will have to replace key components at just about every position, but those that know Randall best expect him to be up to the challenge.
"I think he'll take over. He is a tremendous leader," said Mike Long, Randall's high school coach at Beaumont Kelly. "I hope to see the leadership take over and lead the young defensive linemen that they're going to have there. I think he will. He's got a lot of pride, tremendous work ethic."
A somewhat soft-spoken young man who has also done well academically at Texas, Randall keeps in contact with his high school coaches and makes regular stops by the Kelly football offices when he's back in Beaumont. And while Randall is best known for his work on the field, it's his character in the community, in the locker room, and in the class room that makes those at Kelly most proud.
"He's really a yes sir, no sir guy. He's not loud, not boisterous," said coach Long. That's why I'm in it here as a high school coach, to try to develop them, let them go on to bigger and better things. I knew he was going to be a tremendous football player and he's stayed level headed. He's stayed out of trouble. That's what I'm really proud of. He's such a polite, mature young man."
Randall's character has served him well since arriving at Texas, and those same traits were instrumental in him receiving a scholarship offer from the Longhorn staff back in 2007.
Randall was a player Texas evaluated very early on, before any other schools were really showing an interest. Members of the Longhorn coaching staff saw Randall moving around well on the basketball court and were intrigued by his size, athleticism and footwork, so they invited him up to Austin for a visit. Randall and Kelly assistant coach Frank Middleton made their way to the Forty Acres and Randall made a strong enough impression to garner an immediate scholarship offer.
"He went by to meet coach Brown. We told him to wear a shirt and tie. If he was going to go by, show a little class. He's a classy individual anyway. He went and met with coach Brown and the rest of the coaches. They offered him there. It was kind of a surprise," coach Long said. "Coach Brown called me and said 'Boy he's got a lot of class. He's the only one I've ever seen to wear a shirt and tie as far as recruits.' It was pretty neat. I knew he could play. But it was kind of out of the blue that they offered him right there in his junior year."
Randall went ahead and committed to Texas during his visit and other schools immediately came calling to see if they could get him to change his mind. Randall though stayed true to his word and never backed down from his early commitment.
"He really hadn't had anything else. Nobody else had really talked to him going into his junior year. The neat thing about it, he stuck with it and never wavered," coach Long said. "From that day on, everyone else started coming in. That following week, I started getting calls from Oklahoma, from everybody. They all said 'Hey, what about this Kheeston?'"
Randall had flown under the radar prior to his commitment to Texas, in part due to a move from Ozen High School to Kelly after Randall's sophomore year. The Longhorns' early discovery and offer has paid dividends and Texas is hoping Randall can be the next in what has become a long line of dominant defensive tackle play.
"I think he can taste it. He now realizes he went to Texas playing college ball, now I think he can kind of taste the NFL too," coach Long said. "I've heard rumors here and there that there are some NFL people that interested in him. He's got great feet, He got that from playing basketball. Now it's his size and strength also. But I think his athleticism is his best thing he has going for him. And he works hard every day. He hasn't let up a bit. That's his nature and that's who he is."