ORONO — Desmond Randall has high expectations for himself.
Whether as a football player or an aspiring sports journalist, the University of Maine senior has the confidence and drive to pursue his goals.
It hasn’t been an easy road for the soft-spoken wide receiver from West Seneca, N.Y., who takes the field with his Black Bear teammates for today’s 3:30 p.m. Colonial Athletic Association game at 15th-ranked Massachusetts.
Despite 3-5 UMaine’s struggles this season, Randall is motivated to help his team win.
“I’m definitely going to try and make the most of it and try to be a good leader for my team,” he said. “We can still go out with a four-game winning streak.”
Randall grew up surrounded by an air of confidence and success. At age 12, he moved from his native Detroit to live with his father in Buffalo.
His dad, former NFL wide receiver Demeris Johnson, was playing for the Bills at the time.
“I always had a relationship with him,” said Randall, whose parents never married. “I’ve always looked up to him.”
Randall was able to spend time with Johnson in Miami after he was signed by the Dolphins.
“I met Dan Marino and Troy Vincent and Irving Fryar,” Randall said. “Once you’re around them, you realize they’re just regular people, too.”
Randall was a promising two-sport star as a teenager in West Seneca.
In basketball, the point guard’s career was sidetracked when he broke two bones in his leg and dislocated his ankle playing ball during the spring of his freshman year of high school.
“People thought that was my No. 1 sport,” said Randall, who had six screws and two metal plates inserted to repair his injuries.
He returned to play football the next fall and slowly returned to health. Eventually, Randall chose to pursue football.
He set the West Seneca High single-season rushing record with 1,104 yards and led his team in touchdowns three straight seasons.
Despite being recruited by the likes of Pittsburgh, he was considered a bit too small at 5-foot-10, 175 pounds.
Randall and best friend Jeremy Kelley eventually made a recruiting trip to New Hampshire and Maine. Both chose the Black Bears.
“I feel like the things I’ve had to go through with everyone here have prepared me for life after this,” Randall said.
Randall has been a productive wide receiver this season. He has made a career-best 20 receptions for 194 yards and one touchdown, starting all eight games.
“He’s been a dependable receiver for us,” said coach Jack Cosgrove. “He and Ty (Jones) have served as the veterans of the receiving group and provided mentorship for our young guys that will eventually step into those spots.”
Randall also has been an integral member of UMaine’s special teams.
“He’s been a multifaceted guy that we’ve used in many ways on special teams,” Cosgrove said.
Randall has been a dangerous kickoff returner, averaging 25.2 yards per attempt. However, that role has been reduced because of the risk of injury.
“He’s done a nice job with the kickoff return game,” Cosgrove said. “His value to us there is predicated on the fact we’re very thin at receiver.”
Randall showed his explosiveness in the 2009 opener against St. Cloud State when he returned the opening kickoff 80 yards for a touchdown at Alfond Stadium.
“That was one of the proudest and happiest moments I had here,” said Randall, who had previously told his teammates and coaches he intended to “take it to the house (end zone).”
However, highlights such as that one have been few for Randall.
He was a part-time starter as a freshman in 2006, serving as a running back and receiver. He played mostly on special teams in 2007.
Randall’s career took a dangerous turn during training camp in 2008 when his suffered a burst appendix.
“They said a few more hours and it was life-threatening,” he said of the toxins that had been released into his body.
Randall spent two weeks in the hospital, lost 23 pounds and eventually had to undergo a second surgery. His season was over.
UMaine eventually went to the NCAA playoffs.
“To watch my team be so successful without me, that was tough at first,” said Randall, who made his triumphant return in the 2009 opener with the kickoff return.
“I was finally back out there playing and that felt good,” he said.
Randall continues to work hard and aim high.
“I’ve never looked at playing in the NFL or playing in college as a longshot,” he said. “I still feel like I can make it.”
That confidence is inspired by his dad, who has supported him without any pressure or expectations.
“He said, ‘hang in there, play football. Don’t think about it too much. Things will take care of themselves,'” Randall said.
After football, the journalism major wants to start up his own high school sports magazine in the Buffalo area.
“It would have feature articles and stories about not just players but schools and programs,” Randall said. “I want to rank players and rank schools and that type of stuff. I want kids to get as much notoriety as possible.”