The guy seemed to have the maturity of a veteran.
He had game experience, plenty of highlights already on his film and came to meetings with the new position coach with a solid understanding of the game and a willingness to expand it.
If Conklin hadn’t known better, he admitted it wouldn’t have been easy for him to peg Brian Randolph as a rising sophomore still going through his first year of college with the Vols.
“You know, I probably wouldn’t have thought that,” Conklin said of the former Kell High School standout. “He does have a level of maturity, there’s no question. He’s a guy that is pretty solid back there, and I think football is important to him. He wants to win and wants to learn, and he works hard at it.
“But I think for me as you work with him every day, you see the potential of where he’s going to be in two, three, four years.”
If Randolph is only in the early stages of that development, the Vols still have little to complain about the work already in progress.
After breaking into the rotation as a true freshman last fall, Randolph quickly established himself as on the most reliable tacklers on the team. The next element was to produce some bigger plays by forcing turnovers, and with an interception in each of the first two scrimmages after picking off a pass during a spring scrimmage to end a 2-minute drill for Vols quarterback Tyler Bray, there are signs that might already be in Randolph’s repertoire.
But even as he walked off the field with the blood under his nose barely dry after another impressive performance in the secondary, Randolph was already focusing on what he could have done better to get ready instead of his latest takeaway as he started getting ready for Saturday’s spring game.
“I’m not satisfied,” Randolph said. “I think I can do better, and I am still getting better. I think there’s still room for improvement.
“You have to perform and produce on the field to get people to respect you. Throughout my career, I’ve always wanted to be a leader. It takes a lot of work to be a leader, you have to make plays, you have to lead by example and start saying stuff.”
There has never been any doubt expressed by the Vols about his willingness to put in the necessary work, and there was a clear example of Randolph leading the safeties this spring as he went first in every drill.
While it may be a bit more challenging to get a true gauge of how vocal Randolph really is during closed workouts or team meetings, there’s no question the Vols are expecting his voice to have as much impact as a body that appears better equipped to handle the rigors of the Southeastern Conference now.
“We want him to be a quarterback out there on the defense,” Conklin said. “He’s got game experience, and we want him to be a leader, we want him to make plays.
“It’s the production factor. He blocked a kick (in the first scrimmage), too, I mean he’s productive, there’s no doubt. When a guy is productive and he keeps showing up, he’s showing up for a reason. For me, we’ve talked to him about where he’s got to get better, this is where you have to keep pushing yourself and you’ll have an opportunity to make more plays.”
Perhaps even better for Conklin is the fact that Randolph has more time to make them for the Vols than he might have guessed.