Jerrard Randall thought he loved football.
The Hollywood, Fla., native grew up with the game, blossomed into a four-star quarterback recruit out of high school and couldn’t imagine enjoying the game anymore than he already did.
And then he spent a season in Booneville, Miss. — population 8,799.
“I learned that I loved it even more than I thought,” Randall said last week. “You have to love the game of football to do what I’ve done. A lot of guys quit after some of the stuff I’ve gone through. I’ve stuck with it.
“It shows that I love this game and I’m determined to succeed.”
That determination will bring him to Tucson next month for his final chance at success. He was one of six junior college transfers to sign with Arizona last week during the early-signing period.
The quarterback took an indirect route to the UA.
As a prep star at Chaminade-Madonna Prep in Florida, Randall racked up 4,876 yards of total offense and 50 touchdowns during his final two seasons. After a brief verbal commitment to Oregon, he signed with LSU.
He was rated as the eighth-best quarterback prospect in the country by ESPN.com in 2011 and couldn’t imagine things going wrong at one of the best programs in college football.
“I went in there with a hot head and thought I was bigger than the program,” Randall said. “No one is bigger than the program and I just kinda set myself up to fail. I wouldn’t say I didn’t love the game of football because I did, it’s just I wasn’t as dedicated to the system as I should have been.”
Randall redshirted his first season at LSU and then served as a backup during his second year, but never saw any game action.
He was humbled and learned from some of his mistakes, but had fallen out of favor with the coaching staff because his work ethic wasn’t where it needed to be.
Looking to prove himself all over, Randall transferred to Northeast Mississippi Junior College in Booneville.
He went from playing at LSU’s Tiger Stadium, which seats 92,542 people, to playing at Northeast Mississippi’s Tiger Stadium — capacity 5,200.
“It was a big difference going from LSU to junior college,” Randall said. “I could have had a better season, but I was just glad to play after not for a couple of seasons. I was a little rusty, but it was great to be back out there.”
He threw for 861 yards and seven touchdowns and added 419 yards and six more scores on the ground for Northeast Mississippi in nine games this season. He was sacked 12 times, threw 10 picks and actually went a game without a completion.
But UA coach Rich Rodriguez saw some things he liked.
A self proclaimed “collector of quarterbacks,” Rodriguez liked Randall’s speed, love of the game and the chip on his shoulder from his failure at LSU.
The UA coach visited Randall in Booneville after the season and offered him a scholarship on the spot. During a visit to Tucson earlier this month, Randall committed to the Wildcats. He said he also had interest and offers from Nebraska, Kansas State, Ole Miss, South Florida and Temple.
When the quarterback and Rodriguez met face-to-face in Mississippi, much of the conversation was about second chances.
Randall was looking for one and Rodriguez likes giving them.
“You have to really look into it and try to find out as much as you can and see how hungry they are to prove themselves,” Rodriguez said of recruiting players looking for another opportunity. “I think a lot of times you get a guy like that and he’s really itching to show that he has a second chance and he wants to prove himself all over again and he wants to compete.”
Added Randall: “That was the first thing he mentioned when he came to Mississippi. He said, ‘I like guys like you that have a chip on their shoulder and that would do anything to play football.’”
Randall will report to the UA on Jan. 10 and will be with the Wildcats for spring drills when they begin in March.
“Jerrard is probably a little faster than any quarterback we’ve had here and he can bring a different element,” Rodriguez said. “We talked to the guys at LSU and certainly the guys at the junior college, and they said he’s a tremendous athlete and extremely competitive.”
Rodriguez said Randall is capable of playing other positions, but “we’re looking at him strictly as a quarterback.”
Randall will join Anu Solomon, Connor Brewer, Jesse Scroggins, Javelle Allen and incoming freshman Brandon Dawkins in the competition to be the signal-caller next year.
“This is going to be a very interesting quarterback competition this spring,” Rodriguez said.