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The Yale football team has seen some uncertainty at quarterback this season, with four different players taking snaps under center. But no matter who directs the offense, one playmaker remains constant: wideout Deon Randall ’15.
Randall’s playmaking ability extends to all facets of the game. Not only does he lead the team in all receiving categories, with 78 catches for 725 yards and eight receiving touchdowns, but he has showcased his breakaway speed taking handoffs as well. He has rushed for 148 yards and a pair of scores, including a 32-yard game-winning touchdown against Brown.
“He reminds me of one of the better players I’ve seen in the Ivy League, and I’ve been coaching here for 20 years,” assistant head coach and running backs coach Larry Ciotti said. “He’s certainly at the top of my list.”
Randall has even contributed on the other side of the ball and on special teams as well, taking snaps as a defensive back and a kick returner to boot. Against Brown, the 5 foot 8 dynamo swatted away the Bears’ last-gasp Hail Mary attempt to clinch the Yale victory.
Whether lining up out wide, in the slot, in the backfield or coming in motion across the formation, Randall has proven his versatility to be a major factor in his success. Ciotti noted that wherever Randall plays, he creates matchup nightmares for opposing defenses.
“The defenses that we play know that he is a major threat whenever he touches the ball,” Ciotti said. “They will shift their secondary and favor it toward the side he is motioning to … he’s capable to break one at any given time.”
Randall agreed, saying that it is hard for teams to game plan against him.
Playing multiple positions is nothing new for Randall. In high school, Randall starred all over the field. He started at quarterback for Francis W. Parker High School in San Diego and put up numbers straight out of a video game. He threw 41 passing touchdowns and just eight interceptions for his career, along with 4,131 rushing yards and an astonishing 69 rushing touchdowns.
He also returned kicks and intercepted 21 passes as a cornerback throughout his career and even took over part-time duties as the team punter in his sophomore season.
“He’s so skilled and focused,” Ciotti said. “A true football player.”
In Randall’s freshman year at Yale, he was listed at running back, recording 29 carries for 154 yards and grabbing 10 passes for 13 yards out of the backfield. In 2011, Randall switched to wide receiver and excelled immediately, leading the team in catches with 48 and finishing second on the team in both yards, with 523, and receiving touchdowns, with three. He was named an Honorable Mention All-Ivy player after the season.
But Randall was forced to miss the 2012 campaign with a shoulder injury, and after undergoing surgery and taking a semester off to rehab, he returned this season improved and more prepared.
“During my time off, I got a chance to understand the coaches and get up to speed as far as what they like to run,” Randall said. “It gave me enough time to understand defenses in the Ivy League.”
This year, Randall has shown the ability to take over games. In Yale’s 38–23 victory over Cornell, Randall had 11 catches for 148 yards and four total touchdowns, including one rushing. Last week against Princeton, he caught a career-high 13 grabs for 127 yards and a score.
Though Randall is getting increased carries as a running back now, he says that his play at the position has been part of the game plan all year.
“It’s been in the offense,” Randall said. “I think that’s one of the ways our offense is complimentary to my skill set.”
Ciotti added that Randall has also seen a heavier workload because of injuries suffered by Tyler Varga ’15, a preseason All-American at running back.
With The Game against Harvard coming up on Saturday, Randall still has a chance to break modern Yale school records. His 78 catches rank third in Yale single-season history, behind only Eric Johnson ’01 and Ralph Plumb ’05, who had 86 and 79, respectively. He also ranks third in career catches behind the same two receivers.
Randall noted how much the rivalry against Harvard means to the team and to Eli fans.
“It’s going to be a really fun game,” he said. “Harvard’s a good team and we’re a good team and I hope we play really well. We’re very capable of competing.”
Yale’s game against Harvard will kick off at noon on Saturday and will be televised on NBC Sports Network.