After last week’s regular season finale between Coolidge and Dunbar — a thrilling 43-42 Dunbar victory that was decided by a two-point conversion in overtime — H.D. Woodson Coach Greg Fuller made an observation about Colts Coach Natalie Randolph that has become apparent to many this season.
“Now, everybody looks at her as a coach,” Fuller, who was there to scout playoff opponents, told Coolidge Athletic Director Keino Wilson. “She’s 7-2. She’s not a woman anymore.”
Last year was Randolph’s first as the head coach of the Colts, and occasionally lost in the excitement generated by her hiring was the football itself. Media descended upon the Northwest Washington school at the start of the season to spotlight one of the few women to ever be a head varsity football coach in the country; Randolph was featured on the cover of Parade Magazine. But as the team lost its first five games, the attention dwindled.
This fall, the Colts finished the regular season 7-2, a three-win improvement over last season, behind a talented crop of seniors. For the second year in a row, they are in the playoffs thanks to a high-flying offense and quick defense, and they will face H.D. Woodson, the three-time defending D.C. Interscholastic Athletic Association champion, in the DCIAA semifinals on Saturday. Randolph, a science teacher at Coolidge, also has shepherded an improvement in the team’s overall grade-point average.
But few have been around to witness it all. Few national media outlets have covered Randolph this season, which means fewer questions and distractions. At last week’s game, the Colts’ biggest of the season so far, only the local media was in attendance.
“We get to play high school football and that’s fun,” said Randolph, who still turns down requests for documentaries and eager Hollywood producers seeking her life rights for a movie.
With four fewer assistant coaches than last season, Randolph, 31, has taken on a greater role. The former wide receiver for the D.C. Divas women’s professional team is not just managing the team, its recruiting and its grades, she is also calling the defensive plays. (Assistant coach Jonathan Blackmon calls the offense.)
In the offseason, Randolph attended a national coaches conference and networked with coaches from across the country, gleaning tips to overhaul the offensive play-calling system. In a black-and-white notebook, jokingly referred to as her bible, she charts opponents’ offenses, marking the plays in yellow and pink highlighters. She leads the defense’s film reviews, injecting instruction throughout.
“In terms of football, it’s been great,” Randolph said of her second season. “The kids are really jelling together. They’re listening to the coaches. Much fewer discipline problems. They’re in a routine, doing what they’re supposed to do.“
Under a dramatically dimmer spotlight, Randolph’s imprint on the football team has become more pronounced. Discipline, such as having players do 20 pushups for every curse word, comes from her. The players even self-police, telling each other to quiet down when she talks.
“She is much more demanding of what we do now,” said senior receiver Dayon Pratt, an East Carolina recruit. “She don’t take what she took last year, like talking and playing around in the locker room or getting out [to practice] on time. Everybody is staying focused.”
Off the field, Randolph is a hawk, after the kids to do their homework and improve their grades. Study halls are a serious matter; they’re held four times a week, 60 minutes a session and even draw players who are not required to be there, such as junior Hasan Jenkins, who said his grades and behavior have improved dramatically under Randolph’s watchful eye.
In his time at Coolidge, standout receiver Fellonte Misher has gone from caring just enough about grades to endlessly repeating new vocabulary words from his cellphone’s word-of-the-day application in preparation for next school year at Old Dominion. The team’s overall GPA has improved from 2.75 last fall to 3.0 this season.
“I think people are starting to realize that it’s more than just football here,” Randolph said. “I really want that to be known. That it’s more than just whether or not the kid can run 400 yards. Are you going to class?”
Two days after the Dunbar loss, senior receiver Dalerico Price sent Randolph a text message thanking her for all she had done to help him. Last year, Price was new to Coolidge, stuck on the junior varsity, dealing with the tragic death of his older brother and rarely talking to his teammates. Randolph encouraged him to speak up and interact and succeed in the classroom, and later she called him up to varsity.
“Just thinking about how far I’ve come, from a nobody to scoring touchdowns and providing for the team and stuff like that,” Price said, “it made me just sit there and think just how meeting her brought me here and the urge to go to college that I never thought I’d be in this situation.”