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Holy Cross QB comes from out of nowhere to become NFL prospect

Dominic Randolph's college career is over. The Holy Cross quarterback threw his final pass in a 38-28 Division first-round Football Championship Subdivision loss to Villanova on Saturday.

But there might be more football for Randolph. He's hoping to play in the NFL.

Not bad for a kid who didn't start in high school. Not bad for a kid who played his four college years before tiny crowds in a rickety wooden stadium at the foot of Mount St. James in Worcester, Mass.

Kids with NFL aspirations stopped going to Holy Cross several decades ago. Crusader gridders had some glory days in the 1940s and 50 when they regularly scheduled the likes of Syracuse, Pitt, Penn State, Boston College and Rutgers. Holy Cross competed with the big boys in the days of $200 tuition bills -- days when Harvard, Yale, Army and Navy boasted top 10 teams and Heisman Trophy winners. Holy Cross played Miami in the 1946 Orange Bowl.

Not now. You can't compete in Division I football without massive stadiums, TV deals, 85 full scholarships, and big budget boosters. There are only 1,260 male students at Holy Cross in 2009, and it would be folly to have seven percent of the student population on football scholarships.

USC, Texas, Alabama and Florida have football programs. Holy Cross just has a team.

Acknowledging reality, Holy Cross dropped to Division I-AA in 1982 and joined the Patriot League in 1986. Ancient rival Boston College was mercifully taken off the schedule in 1987 and Holy Cross' last football scholarships were offered in 1988.

That's why it was so strange to see all those NFL scouts trekking to Worcester this year. The good old boys must have rented a lot of GPS devices to find Fitton Field. A blighted gray city in central Massachusetts, Worcester has plenty of closed factories ... but no football factory. Holy Cross coach Tom Gilmore and his small staff work in cramped second-floor offices of an old airplane hangar which was moved from Davisville, RI, to Worcester after World War II.

So how did an NFL prospect, a kid who would ended up being New England's best college quarterback since BC's Matt Ryan, wind up at Holy Cross?

Nobody else wanted him.

Kids who don't start in high school are not usually blue-chip recruits.

There was no Friday night lights glory for Dominic Randolph. He grew up in Amelia, Ohio, just a touch pass from Cincinnati, and attended St. Xavier High, where the crowds were bigger than Holy Cross crowds.

At St. Xavier, Randolph was the career backup for a kid named Rob Schoenhoft, who was ranked one of the top ten high school quarterbacks in the nation. While Randolph sat, the blue-chip kid got all the snaps (Schoenhoft wound up going to Ohio State, transferred to Delaware and eventually was forced to stop playing due to multiple concussions).

Meanwhile, Randolph's dad seethed. A defensive tackle on Michigan's 1976 Orange Bowl team, Charlie Randolph knew his son was good enough to play. He knew football. He knew his kid wasn't getting a chance.

He told Dominic he could transfer. Dominic wanted to stay. After his junior season, Dom went to Cambridge, Mass., for a Harvard football camp.

Charlie Randolph knew a couple of high school teammates who'd played at Holy Cross. They told him to check out Worcester while Dom was at the Harvard camp. So father and son made a day trip to Holy Cross, met coach Gilmore, and it was decided that Dominic would play for the Crusaders.

It didn't take long for Gilmore to see what he had. Randolph is 6-foot-2, 223 pounds and was born to play Gimore's no-huddle, spread offense.

He started as a freshman and continued until Saturday in Philadelphia.

Randolph passed for 347 yards (31 of 51) with three touchdowns and no interceptions against the Wildcats, but it wasn't enough. He finished his college career with 13,455 yards passing and 117 touchdowns, the most decorated quarterback in school history.

He'll complete studies for his degree in economics and accounting this semester, but plans to stick around Worcester to get ready for the NFL draft. When Boston College invites NFL scouts for Pro Day, Dominic will make the trip to Chestnut Hill. There is no Pro Day at Holy Cross.

Any regrets about playing at a small-time football school?

"Sometimes I wish it was a little bigger, but there's not much I would change,'' Randolph said. "[Holy Cross is] a tough school, but it teaches you more about the real world.''

Randolph is a strong candidate for the Walton Payton Award, which qualifies as the Division I-AA Heisman. If pro football doesn't work out, he's got a job lined up at General Electric back home in Ohio.

"Football's not life,'' he said. "Some time, you're going to have to put the football down. But I'm certainly going to try. I know I don't have the arm of Donovan McNabb or Tom Brady, but I think I can play.''

"Absolutely,'' said Gilmore, when asked about his quarterback's chances of playing at the next level. "He's just one of those guys who is really poised and can perform under pressure.''

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