Doug Randolph never needed football.
The fact that the former Notre Dame defensive end ever played at all was almost a happy accident. Prior to his sophomore year at the Woodberry Forest School in Woodberry Forest, Va., Randolph asked his basketball coach how he could improve.
His coach told him to play football.
He tried it out, and found a calling.
“After that first season I realized I could play football instead (of basketball),” Randolph said. “There were more opportunities in football right away. So I pursued that.”
Randolph pursued football, and prestigious programs pursued Randolph. The former basketball and lacrosse player’s first football scholarship offer came from Stanford, of all places. A consensus four-star prospect, he eventually trimmed his list to Notre Dame, Stanford and Virginia.
A 6-foot-2, 237-pound outside linebacker at the time, Randolph’s roots clung not just to athletics, but academics. His father is a radiation oncologist, concentrating on the treatment of cancer. His older brother, David, who Randolph has looked up to throughout his life, is following the same route. His sister is an ophthalmologist, or an eye doctor, that specializes in retinal cases. His mother is a dentist.
Randolph was an athlete, sure, but he chose a university that allowed him to evolve into something more.
“I kind of decided to pursue what was going to give me the best opportunity for a post-athletic career,” Randolph explained. “It just so happened that I loved Notre Dame, and Notre Dame was going to deliver on those things.
“Notre Dame football is obviously great, but the Notre Dame education is going to put me in a position to do whatever I want to do for the rest of my life.”
Unfortunately for Randolph, the rest of his life came sooner than advertised. Following his third season with the team in 2015, the 6-2, 255-pound defensive end was medically disqualified with a spinal cord injury.
He made six tackles in 19 career games. And then, just like that, his calling was abruptly canceled.
“When I went to the doctors appointment and they all told me I couldn’t play anymore, I honestly wasn’t sad,” Randolph said. “I had a suspicion going into it, because I could just tell something was very off. But this didn’t change my path at all. All along I had used football as a vehicle to achieve the most that I could.”
Even without the game, he was still determined to do that.
“He’s such a high-energy guy,” said Clint Alexander, Randolph’s football coach at Woodberry Forest. “Once he realized he had to find a different path, he just wrapped his mind around it and dived in with both feet.”
Randolph’s new path, however, intersected with his old one. The Richmond, Va., native never left the football program, instead transitioning into a student assistant role mentoring Notre Dame’s young defensive linemen.
“Right when I found out (I couldn’t play), Daelin (Hayes) and Khalid (Kareem) and the early enrollees were getting there, and I basically adopted them and taught them how to get through Notre Dame and how they should handle things on and off the field,” Randolph said.
“I got to take on a mentor role right away, so it really made the transition relatively easy. The whole team embraced me the same way. Nothing changed.”
Except, of course, for his game day uniform. Along with his duties assisting then-defensive line coach Keith Gilmore during the week, Randolph also served as the defensive signaler on Saturdays, relaying the team’s defensive play calls to junior linebacker Nyles Morgan.
But to become an effective signaler, Randolph had to be easy to spot.
“Nyles is a funny guy,” said Randolph, who stuck out in a bright yellow polo for the majority of Notre Dame’s games. “The other shirts just wouldn’t work for him, so he asked for something else. That’s all they could find. He was like, ‘That’ll work.’
“It kind of just took off as my thing, and now I’m the guy with the yellow shirt.”
He’s also the guy with the Notre Dame degree. This spring, Randolph earned a degree in management consulting from the Mendoza College of Business, which ranked No. 2 out of 114 undergraduate business schools in the Bloomberg Businessweek rankings in 2016. This summer, he’ll move to Milwaukee to begin working in private wealth management for equity firm R.W. Baird.
For a three-sport athlete from a family of doctors, football didn’t have to be everything — a lifestyle, a destination.
It was a bridge between Virginia and the family (and future) he found at Notre Dame.
“I’m thankful to Notre Dame for all that she’s given me and all that I’ve learned from her,” Randolph said, “but I’m definitely excited to move on and see what’s next.”