Stepping into the spotlight
The coach had seen enough after the player's third attempt to perform a squat lift. Brandon Carson's feet weren't positioned properly, and the coach called him on it.
"You're doing a pli," the coach said.
Senior Daniel West laughed - "a pli!" - and teased his football teammate who had crossed the line into ballet. Natalie Randolph thought nothing of it.
"I took ballet when I was younger," Randolph said. "When I was in my prime, I could squat 300 pounds."
The room fell silent. Teenage boys twice the size of their 5-foot-5, 130-pound coach had no retort. Randolph, who in March became one of just a handful of women ever to be named head coach of a high school football team, pounded her thigh to show she still has some muscle from her days as a hurdler at the University of Virginia and wide receiver for the D.C. Divas women's professional football team.
When Randolph, 30, stands before her players for their first practice Friday at Coolidge, she will hardly be an unknown commodity. In the nearly five months since the March 12 announcement of her hiring attracted national media coverage, a proclamation from Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, and a spotlight on the Coolidge team, Randolph got to better know her players without the cameras present. Among her summer projects with the Colts: Organizing an SAT preparation class, implementing a complex conditioning program, and having her players regularly clean the Brightwood school's classrooms and athletic facilities.
Off the field, she has long been quiet, with a voice characterized by her friends and students as "squeaky." On the field, her personality is atypical of the football coaching archetype; bombast and intimidation are not her usual calling cards, nor does she seek the spotlight.
"I like staying in the background," said Randolph, who has been trailed by an ESPN camera crew since April. "But what can you do? It comes with the territory. This has been hard. It's probably been one of the hardest things I've ever done."
On the day before her first practice, Randolph visited the Redskins' training camp in Ashburn, where she met with team owner Daniel Snyder, Coach Mike Shanahan, General Manager Bruce Allen and former quarterback Sonny Jurgensen - "all the big-wigs," she said.
She also received a tutorial in how to handle the crush of attention.
Tony Wyllie, the Redskins' senior vice president in charge of media relations, advised her to allow the cameras to film only the first 10 minutes of practice and then send them away.
"I'm a high school coach, just a high school coach," Randolph said, standing on the sidelines at Redskins Park. "All of this is so foreign to me, and he had just a few simple tips. I'm like, 'Wow, I didn't think of that.' "