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The One and Only

With Vick suspended, Randall won't be looking over his shoulder

August 27, 2004|David Wharton | Times Staff Writer

No reason for Bryan Randall to look over his shoulder.

No one doubts that he should be the starting quarterback at Virginia Tech this season.

No one is second-guessing him, wondering whether a certain underclassman -- the one with the famous last name -- should come off the bench.

For the first time, Randall has the spotlight to himself, and he doesn't care that the Hokies are a young team. He doesn't care that they are underdogs to USC in the Black Coaches Assn. Football Classic at FedEx Field in Landover, Md., on Saturday.

"Playing a No. 1 team on national television ... that's like a national championship game," he says. "That kind of opportunity doesn't come along very often."

Randall, a senior, has started the better part of two seasons and has led his team to consecutive bowl games, putting up solid numbers.

But he has suffered from unfortunate timing, having taken over in the fall of 2002, roughly the same time that Marcus Vick -- younger brother of NFL star Michael Vick -- arrived at Virginia Tech.

Given that Michael had a legendary career at the school, and some people figured Marcus might be even better, there was no surprise about what came next.

"Anybody could see, him having the last name of Vick, he was going to get some notoriety," Randall says. "It's just something that happens in sports."

So, even as Randall threw for 2,000 yards and ran for 500 more in 2002, fans looked ahead to the second coming of Vick.

And even as Randall held on to the starting job last season, Coach Frank Beamer played Vick in almost every game.

Not the sort to complain, Randall now insists, "It didn't bother me. I'm all about what's going to work for the team."

The offense clicked early, the Hokies racing to a 6-0 start, but the two-man rotation -- and a slumping defense -- eventually led to problems.

Vick showed his inexperience, throwing five interceptions and only two touchdown passes. Randall, while completing 61% of his passes, also struggled with turnovers as Virginia Tech lost its last three games, including a 52-49 defeat by California at the Insight Bowl.

"When we were going back and forth [between quarterbacks] a little bit, I don't think we communicated with Bryan as well as we could have at times," Beamer told reporters last month. "I don't think he always understood."

The off-season brought more speculation about Vick's winning the top spot. This time, however, the controversy did not last long.

The younger quarterback was arrested twice, first for serving alcohol to teenage girls in his apartment, then for marijuana possession.

While those cases worked their way through court, Randall traveled with Athletes in Action, a religious group, to counsel youngsters in South-Central Los Angeles.

Vick was eventually convicted of contributing to the delinquency of a minor and pleaded no contest to the marijuana charge. The university suspended him for the fall semester, which made Randall the unquestioned starter.

"He shouldn't be overlooked," says Ed Orgeron, USC's defensive line coach. "He's maybe not as shifty as the other guy, but he can move and he's probably a better passer."

Those qualities have translated into 5,259 yards of total offense, and Randall could break the school record in that category during the first few weeks of the season.

But his offense must replace seven starters, including tailback Kevin Jones and center Jake Grove, both All-Americans. His most experienced receivers and tight end are gone too.

Vick's absence will make things tough as well, because the Hokies had experimented with using him at receiver.

"That does cause you some problems," USC Coach Pete Carroll said. "Now we don't have to worry about it."

Randall doesn't like the idea of making things any simpler for the Trojan defense.

"Their line tends to get a lot of pressure on the quarterback," he said. "They're in the backfield on a lot of plays."

For the Hokies to stay in the game, the veteran figures he must play smarter, avoiding the turnovers that marred last season, maybe take a few sacks instead of forcing plays.

And although it goes against his quiet nature, he has worked this summer to become more assertive in the huddle and on the sideline.

"More of a vocal leader," he says. "That's what you need to do."

No more doubts. No second-guessing. This is his team.

*

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Passing Gear

Virginia Tech quarterback Bryan Randall passed for 2,134 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2002. A look at his 2003 statistics:

* Games: 13

* Attempts: 245

* Completions: 150

* Percentage: 61.2%

* Yards: 1,996

* Yards per attempt: 8.1

* Yards per game: 153.5

* Interceptions: 10

* Touchdowns: 15

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