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Keith Randolph feared his season was finished when he went down with a knee injury against Texas San Antonio on Sept. 4 at Memorial Stadium. But the Illini

defensive tackle returned three weeks later at Purdue and has provided a critical presence on Ryan Walters’ defense since his return to the field. News-Gazette

contributor Gavin Good caught up with Randolph about his third year with the Illini, his relationships in the program and his well-known basketball prowess.

How are you feeling about your career so far at Illinois now that you’re in your third year?

Definitely more comfortable. I’d say that’s the perfect word for it. Coming here as a freshman, nervous and not really knowing what to do, how to play with such bigger and older guys. Then in my second year, trying to adjust and make big steps. In my third year, I just feel a whole lot more relaxed and comfortable around the guys and team.

How were you able to come up with that interception against Charlotte?

It was a blitz, originally, and I didn’t get into the gap I was supposed to. Then, I saw the quarterback start running out. I just tried to run in for pursuit, and he just threw the ball. My teammate, Isaiah Gay, tipped it, and I just had the opportunity to make the game-changing play.

What’s the biggest thing that has changed for you this year in terms of making plays?

Switching positions helped a lot. When I first got here, I was a defensive end. I was making a few plays and stuff, but then last year a couple of our d-tackles went down, and they had to move me inside for depth. It just worked out perfectly fine. I feel like it’s almost like my calling.

Something they say about defensive tackles is you can’t measure their performance by stats. How do you feel like you interior guys have been able to create pressure, and open things up for guys on the outside?

I feel like we’ve been doing it pretty well, all the d-tackles. Being able to crush the pocket and be on the same page together as a group really helps not just the outside guys, but the linebackers, as well.

As a Belleville guy, how has Bret Bielema’s message to build this

program with in-state recruits

resonated with you?

It really hit me. Knowing that Coach B wants to build the team around people like where I’m from, he has the opportunity to go and get people all over the country. To try and build it with people not just from my hometown, but from Illinois, it’s a really great feeling. It shows the world that Illinois has got some pretty good football, as well.

I saw in your Illinois bio that your nickname is “OT.” I had missed that before. Do people still call you OT?

Nah, not no more. It stood for “Original Trench.” Like in the defensive end, we’d be in the trenches. But I’m like the original trench — it all started with me. That was the nickname. My head coach (at Belleville West) Cameron Pettus, he brought it up.

What’s the most important thing you’ve learned about life since

coming to Champaign?

I have to say that the top of the mountain doesn’t care. Those are wise words from my bestie, Doug Kramer. He has this saying, ‘The top of the mountain doesn’t care.’ It basically means nobody really cares. You got to get it done. You can complain about it all you want. You can make excuses, but nobody cares. You’ve got to suck it up. You’ve got to have grit. You’ve got to get the job done.

You haven’t been playing football as long as most guys at this level. What got you into football when you first started in high school?

First, my dad put it in my mind, and I kind of blew him off about it. My head coach, Cameron Pettus, used to always come up to me, ‘You wanna play football? You wanna play football? You wanna play football?’ He used to bring coaches to come talk to me about playing football. One day I was like, ‘You know what? I might as well just go out and give it a try. And if I don’t like it, I’ll stop.’ At this time I wasn’t getting recruited. I had no offers. My first day going out there at practice, my very first football practice, I got an offer from an NAIA school. It’s a small school, but just getting offered my first day out there playing football, I was like, ‘Man, if I was playing this for a few years, who knows what I could do?’

Everyone knows you’re a big

basketball guy, too, and you

possibly have the claim of the title of best hooper on the team.

Possibly?

Is there anyone who can really hold their own on this team against you right now on the basketball court?

Um, no. It’s not even close. I might be the best basketball player on campus, including Kofi, Curbelo, count them all in. I’m definitely top five.

It’s kind of a tradition at this point to ask the respected basketball players on the team who else is the best. With this year’s team, who would you say is the starting five?

At the one, I’ll go Isaiah Williams, my roommate. At the two, I’m gonna go with Caleb Griffin. At the three, that’s a good question. I’m going to come back to the three. At the four, it would be me. At the five, it’d be Julian Pearl. At the three, I’m going to take someone kind of tall and athletic. I don’t really know who would be a good three. I guess I’d take Griffin Moore. I guess.

Have you thought about name,

image and likeness and exploring some deals for yourself now?

Oh, most definitely, because of the new NCAA rule, definitely wanting to do it. I’m definitely open to any deals.

Where is your favorite place to eat on or around campus?

I really like Maize. I really like Jurassic Grill. I might go with Jurassic. You can’t go wrong with it.

What is something people don’t know about you that you think is interesting?

I can juggle.

What else?

I can dunk.

I can’t do either one of those. My last question for you: Who do you think is your funniest teammate?

Dude, that’s a great question. There’s so many funny teammates, I can’t give you one. I’ll give you a quick little three or four. Got to go with Doug Kramer, my bestie. If you’re writing an article on this, please make sure you put ‘bestie.’ I gotta go Vederian Lowe. The d-line is going to be so mad at me because these are all o-linemen. I gotta go with Julian Pearl. Who else is hilarious? Coran Taylor. Johnny Newton, my other bestie, please make sure you put that in there. Johnny Newton is hilarious. Calvin Avery, hilarious. That’s about it right there.

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