JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Randy Randall Jr. saw faces that he shouldn’t have been seeing.
Not in his line of work. Not behind bars.
It was during that time where the first-year Westside High head football coach made a decision.
He wanted to make a difference in his community before those kids ever made a life-changing mistake.
“I was a correction officer for a number of years and I started running into kids I knew. And when I started running into the kids I knew in the prison system, I wanted to create a change,” Randall said. “So, when Coach [Rodney] DuBose was here, he gave me an opportunity to come back. So, I wanted to come back and create a change in the community.”
Randall played at the program when it was Forrest and graduated in 1993. He got his start in coaching at the school under coach Dennis Clemons and then left a couple years later to pursue a career in the Department of Corrections. Assistant coaches leaving for better opportunities is commonplace in the profession. Duval County assistant football coaches can make a supplement of $2,362 for work in fall and spring.
It was during those years that Randall began noticing a disturbing pattern of seeing kids who he knew come through the prison system. When those kids would recognize Randall, he said it was often with a look of embarrassment or trying not to be seen. Randall said that he had numerous discussions with those former players when they were inmates and that sparked him into change.
“It made me feel like we were losing the Westside, and either you’re part of the problem or you’re part of the solution,” he said. “I wanted to come be part of the solution. So, it made me really invest back into the community and come back and try to change some things over here.”
Defensive lineman Jordan Hall, Westside’s most visible recruit in well over a decade, joked, that he couldn’t blame Randall for getting out of his job as a corrections officer.
“I know why he stopped being a CO; because people in jail is crazy,” Hall said. “So, I can tell you why he did it. But he’s a little off himself, but in a good way. Honestly, I think, it’s his love for the kids and his connection with other people.”
That change came was a significant sacrifice. Going from a career and back into the public school system was not only a time sacrifice but a financial one, too. As a head coach, the supplement in Duval County is just $4,699 a year. That’s not Randall’s full-time job at Westside — on paper at least — but it’s the one that occupies the bulk of his time. He’s also trying to raise enough money to help the program replace old equipment.
Some things, he said, are worth the sacrifice though.
“It was rough. The pay cut was hard to take at first. But myself and my wife we sat down together and through God, we have continued to make it and make strides forward,” Randall said “My mom’s been here over 30 years. She works in the dean’s office. My father retired from the school board, so he’s been around forever. So, we’re all in this together and I have a lot of backing coming from my family.”