Randy Russell Jr.’s Football Career Came Into Question in an Instant | The Players’ Tribune

– Big hitter, very violent player. – This is a guy that was a part of Florida’s early signing class that was expected to do
really, really big things, but in an instant it’s all gone. – I just prayed really hard. Just asking God, “Let this go away, and I hope it’s nothing. I hope it’s just a scare.” – I knew when I saw him on the field that he was gonna be someone special. – The first time I met Randy, he was in one of those
teacher-service deals. And every person that you
talked to at the school, and I ask a lot of questions
– Tell me about Randy? – and boy, you know, “What a great person.” “You’re getting a great young man.” “You’re getting a a tough football player too,” but everybody was much more discussing the type of person he is. That’s how you knew he was gonna be … he was gonna fit our program. – Coach Mullen said that he was gonna treat Randy like his son, and I was grateful for that. – He’s a recruit out of Carol City High down in Miami. A defensive back who had
a really good career. The Gators are excited to get him up here. He starts classes in January, and not only do they put him
through a standard physical, they also give him the EKG heart test. – So I’m just taking it,
just not really, you know, worrying about anything. I’m laying down. – In Randy’s case, when we did the EKG, there was an abnormality in the waveform noticed on the EKG by our team physicians. Which lead us into our
next level of testing, which we already do, is echocardiograms. – I figured it had to
be something serious, but at the same time, I know I never experienced no symptoms. I’ve been playing football all my life. – There was an abnormality that showed that he had hypertrophic cardiomyopathy or HCM. Your heart, just like any
muscle, expands during exercise. Because of the thickening of the wall, it actually shuts the valve where the blood would
normally flow through. And the problem is then blood can not go through the heart, and it’s an immediate cardiac arrest. I mean, we’re not dealing
with a knee injury, this is sudden death. With no procedure that
can correct this issue, so unfortunately that’s
where it leads into medical disqualification. I had spoken with his mother, and she understood, but wanted to be there when we told Randy because obviously the news was gonna be devastating to him. – I got on the bus that same night, and Paul met me at the bus station. But the whole time, in
my mind I’m playing, “how, why?” This came from left field. This was not expected at all. – Paul calls me. It’s about seven, eight
o’clock in the morning. He told me to come to
Coach Mullen’s office. Soon as I get up to his
room, I looked at my mom, and her eyes are extremely red. My heart literally just stopped. – Everyone left the room, and then he even broke down even more, and just kind of just let it out. – I’ve been playing football
since I was four years old. I never experienced anything. You can’t sit here and tell me that I can’t play football again. That first two months, that was probably the
worst months of my life. I would go to practice sometimes, and I just leave because
it would be hard to watch. People can say, “Oh I know how you feel.” You don’t know how I feel. It was just hurting to that point where I just wanted everything to be numb. – For someone to say that you
can’t play football no more, someone telling you that you can’t live your
dream through no more … Knowing how hard he worked, and knowing what football means to him, it really touched me. – Put yourself in their
shoes for a second. I’m gonna take football away from you. That hits home, and I think
that made it really easy for everybody to put their arms
around him and embrace him. – It is recommended that a defibrillator be put in, just to make sure that
nothing were to happen, so that that could possibly not allow a sudden cardiac episode with him. – His whole thing is, you know Mom, if they gave me a paper today and said, “It’s on you, whatever happens,” he said he would sign it. I understand because I … because I know that’s
what he would have wanted. When he, they told me that he needed to get an implanted defibrillator, and I was pushing it, I was like, “Randy, you need to get the defibrillator, in case something happens.” He said, “Mommy, I don’t want it.” He said, “Do you believe in God?” And I said yes. He said, “Then whatever’s
meant for me to be, what is meant for me,” so he didn’t get the defibrillator. – Waking up, knowing
that it’s there, it just, it’ll hold me back mentally, physically. One day I do feel like
I’ll end up playing again, and just by having that defibrillator it would just force me to quit. – This is what makes him happy. This is, this is Randy. Randy is Football. – I live through them right now, so if I see they’re doing
something on the field that, I would do, and it would help the team,
everybody just embraces it. – Even though he’s going
through what he’s going through, the other day in practice,
you know we’ll be out there, and he’ll be like, “Hey
man, you know what it do B. Lock it down B, no big plays. Lock it down B, you know what it do man. Where the swag at B, where’s the swag at.” So anytime I see him, he just bring that joy to me, remind me, tomorrow’s not promised, so give your all out there,
and just do it for 21. – For the first game I didn’t
even come out for pre-game. I was just in the back
laying down on the couch. I was crying, “It’s the first game. I’m supposed to be out here.” Vosean came up to me and say, “Yo we gonna go out the tunnel together.” We locked arms, and we just pray together. And that’s just something we
did every home game since. He knows I’m hurting, but he knows how to help me out, without even bringing it up. When I’m working out I just feel like I’m working out to play again. That’s how I look at it. I don’t feel anything in my heart. I feel the same way I
did a month before I came when I had a football game. I live with no fear. It’s bigger than me. I don’t know if I’ll necessarily want to be a cardiovascular doctor, but some way shape or form
I want to help somebody. You want to be able to give back because I was once in the patient’s shoes. – I don’t know what it
is he’s gonna be doing, what his calling is, but he’s gonna be someone. – Even though I’m not playing right now, I just feel … I feel
normal. I’m living life. I’m thanking God for
identifying what I have. Not that I envisioned it to be this way, but I know that everything
happens for a reason. And I’m glad that it’s happened this way because it help me become stronger.

27 thoughts on “Randy Russell Jr.’s Football Career Came Into Question in an Instant | The Players’ Tribune

  1. Fred Thompson from Oregon State had the same thing. He didn’t make it. Thankful Randy’s condition was caught in advance. Wishing him life.

  2. He's allowed to train again so to me thats a sign of improvement and I believe he will return to the field. We pray for you and your mom brother ??? #TheReturnOf21

  3. this is amazing to me, i also have hcm and was medically disqualified from sports my junior year in high school, ive taken it as a sign from god and i feel like ive found my calling in athletic medicine, this came at a perfect time for me and im so glad to see a light shed on it, hope to see 21 suited up in the swamp one day

  4. Randy Russell was a beast I remember when he committed to the U. I was so happy but I was heartbroken when he flipped to FLorida. I was even more heartbroken when I heard about his Heart issue. May God bless this kid.

  5. Something similar happened to my brother on 2 occasions. His sophomore year of high school he was hit and it was thought to be a stinger but it actually turned out he had a swan neck deformity and would never play again. He did a bunch of PT and by a miricale it actually improved it when they said it would never get better. His senior year in high school on his last high school game, he got knocked out in a dirty hit by another player and he fractured his neck. He was told he'd never play again and had to pass up on 2 scholarships because he couldn't even touch his toes.3 years later he's semi pro. God works in mysterious ways. Never give up and keep pushing. #21return

  6. What if gods plan was to get the thing put in his heart tho? Ppl be over thinking sometimes man but god bless this brother.

  7. "I could only imagine". I would have gave anything to play for the Gators. I pray that you can keep your faith strong and believe God has your best interest in mind. Looks like he's got a great support group. Go Gators!!!

  8. Stories like this piss me off! Why is everything that’s bad a “but God” moment. So god likes horrible things to happen to good ppl when you have liars, cheaters, murderers etc walking around rich and not a care in the world. This is silly…

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