“BEING ONLY 20 and running against the best in the world is a blessing.” Truly. These were the words that Randolph Ross — who is now 21 and a North Carolina A&T junior — used to sum up a ’21 collegiate season in which he blasted to 2nd in the NCAA Indoor’s 2-section format in 44.99 and then at the outdoor version poured it on down the homestraight to win by 0.59 in 43.85.
As he launches into the ’22 campaign, those times set him at No. 9 all-time among collegians indoors and No. 3 on the absolute compilation. The only names ahead of him on the latter list are, like Ross, Tokyo Olympians: Michael Norman and Fred Kerley. Before he steps off the collegiate stage, Ross surely has their times on his target list.
To the delight of NCAA devotees, Ross remains all-systems-go for chasing yet greater achievements on the collegiate oval — coached by, it is no secret, father Duane Ross, A&T’s program director and ’99 World Champs 110H bronze medalist.
A less-known fact is that track & field runs on mom Kris’s side of the family tree also. Her sister is ’04 Trials 100 winner and Olympic finalist LaTasha Colander.
While Ross’s Olympic Trials 3rd, appearance in the Tokyo heats and relay run to 4×4 gold (a 44.6 carry in the heats) could easily be seen as marking his card for the pro ranks, he sees no reason for haste.
“One of the reasons I came back to A&T was my education,” says Ross, a Finance major. “I want to graduate college first, go on to a Masters and maybe a little more after that, but I wasn’t necessarily in a rush to go pro.
“I mean, yeah, having the money’s nice, traveling the world, but if you run the right way, you can still travel the world. even though you’re still in college. So that’s all it is.”
Even if he were to sign a contract this year or next, “I’m still gonna be back at A&T, in school training with my dad, training with the team,” Ross says.
He also has NCAA titles to defend. Not just his individual outdoor lap crown but also both 4x4s, indoors and out. The Aggie relayists are off to a blistering start. At Clemson’s Pollock Invitational, an A&T foursome came up just short of powerful Florida 3:03.21–3:03.39.
Since when do teams run that fast in January?
Coach Ross points out, “Three of the legs that won the indoor championships are back. So we’re pretty strong. We did reload. The one battle we’re having to fight — you can say just about everybody’s fighting it — is COVID.” Prior to the Pollock weekend, the Aggie head man had not “really been able to put everyone out at the same time.”
What only fans with eyes lasered on the high school jumps may know is that the 6-1/173 (1.85/78) Randolph started out as a prep high jumper and as a senior at Garner High (North Carolina) topped 7-0 (2.135) in addition to racing a lap in 46.67.
“I came into high school a jumper,” he says. “I didn’t do any running. It was high jump and long jump. And once we got there, our dad, he wanted us to have a high school experience and not be focused on track at such a young age. So he let us do what we wanted to do. So I high jumped and one of my coaches was like, ‘Most high jumpers should be able to run a good 4.’
“So that’s how it started. I think my very first 400 was like 50.5. And then my dad was like, ‘OK, we can do something with this.’ So it was doing a little bit of training, but I still kept to our high school schedules and everything. And then as I got stronger running, my high jump also got better. So I wanted to keep running. And the next year, my junior year of high school, I ended running 47.5 and also jumped 6-10.
“So going into college, I was going in for both the high jump and the 400.”
Says Duane, “He received a lot of offers to be a multis athlete.”
As Randolph remembers, “I was supposed to be going for both [the 400 and high jump]. But then as we got stronger in college, I started lifting and the training changed a little bit, when I opened up with 45.8 [and then 45.44 by the end of January ’20], it was kind of, ‘OK, this is where my college season is going to go.’ So I stuck with the 400.”
Looking back, he says, “I was definitely grateful that I was able to enjoy high school without all the strict training and lifting. In high school I didn’t lift at all until I got to college. So just being able to have that experience and not be strictly focused on track and missing out on my childhood was most definitely a great experience.”
If the comments you’ve read from his mouth so far suggest Ross is methodical, maybe takes life and sport as it comes, you are on the mark.
“Oh, cool. As a cucumber,” says his dad, “You can’t get a rise out of this kid one way or the other. I’ve maybe once in his lifetime — I’ve seen him lose his temper once. He’s very respectful. He’s, ‘Yes, sir, no, sir,’ to everyone, I get compliments all the time about just how respectful and humble he is.”
His no-drama demeanor made it easy to come up at A&T following closely in the footsteps of ’19 NCAA runner-up and 44.25 man Trevor Stewart.
“I saw it as an asset,” Ross admits, “because me, I was more known for getting out hard the first 200. Trevor worked on the last 200. So in practice, even though we were never put together for the workouts, we could see where the other person was.
“Mentally I was able to see the different perspectives of running and which one works better when the time is needed to run fast.”
Asked to assess what he needs to work on following a season of ’21’s quality, Ross says, “For me it would just be getting stronger, really. We know the speed is there for the 400. We know if I know how to run my race model, it’s just, ‘How much stronger can we get?’”
The goal, Ross says, peeling the onion down to its center, is that “when we get off the first turn, the first 200, we know what’s left and know how much we can put into the last 100, if not save it throughout the rest of the race.”
For now, he assesses, “There’s not too much we can really work on without overflowing what we already have to focus on.”