Natalie Randolph, Coolidge ready for DCIAA playoff game with H.D. Woodson

Natalie Randolph reflects on her memorable first season as head football coach at Coolidge Senior High School.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, November 13, 2010; 12:06 AM

Natalie Randolph watched slumped shoulders and hung heads trudge off the field and had to think quickly. The first female high school football coach in the Washington area just saw her Coolidge team lose its fifth straight game to start the season - in devastating fashion, as Forestville High won, 22-19, on a touchdown with just 30 seconds left.

As Randolph followed her players into the locker room, she considered her postgame speech for a bunch of heartbroken teenage boys. The winning touchdown came at the end of a 99-yard drive. The Colts needed consolation and a lift.

But when she walked into a dead-silent room and saw some players with tears in their eyes, the soft-spoken Randolph knew immediately what to say.

"This is not okay!" Randolph yelled. "It's not okay that we lost. We played down to their level."

Heads lifted. Eyes widened. She tore into her team for 45 minutes - an open-field shot to their collective solar plexus.

"I didn't expect it, but I understood it," junior quarterback Femi Bamiro said. "That was the way to get through to us.

"And it worked, right?"

After that loss, Coolidge rebounded to win its next four games. Although the Colts lost their regular-season finale last week at Dunbar, they still qualified for the D.C. Interscholastic Athletic Association football playoffs with a 4-6 record. Coolidge will meet two-time defending champion H.D. Woodson (7-3) Saturday at 4:30 p.m. at Cardozo. A victory would put the Colts in the DCIAA title game, known as the Turkey Bowl, on Thanksgiving morning.

While Randolph, 30, is quick to note that her team's level of competition dropped significantly after the first five games, she acknowledges that perhaps her biggest coaching challenge was keeping her players motivated and confident in the face of a winless record at midseason.

With no prior head-coaching experience to draw upon, Randolph, a science teacher, has often rummaged through many of her classroom tactics to reach her players on the field.

"My reaction is going to influence their decision," Randolph said of how she approached each critical moment this season, whether it was during a game, practice or even casual conversation. "I've been teaching for long enough that I understand how to control myself. I don't have time to flip out over something that's over, that's from last week."

She knew that when the Colts were 0-5, she had to face her players and the public with the same cool confidence she displayed before a throng of reporters and cameras on March 12, when she was introduced as Coolidge's coach. She could ill afford to worry about outside perception of her, her coaching and her players.

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