As an Olympian and a former college national champion, Duane Ross knew the kind of pressure his son Randolph was under as an up-and-coming sprinter with aspirations of following in his father’s athletic footsteps.
That’s why, despite being the track coach at NC A&T, he did everything in his power to avoid burdening the youngster with any added pressure when it came time for Randolph to make his college choice.
“Obviously I wanted him here with me, but I wanted him to spread his wings, become a young man and make his own decision on where he wanted to go,” Duane Ross said. “I didn’t go with him on his visits to other institutions that were recruiting him. I thought it would be awkward for him. Not once did we really talk about him coming to run here at A&T.”
And yet, that’s what Randolph decided to do once he settled on which school he’d attend.
What father thought would be pressure, son viewed as a challenge. Two years into his career with the Aggies, the talented sophomore is already adding to his family’s impressive legacy.
On Feb. 12 at the Tiger Paw Invitational at Clemson, South Carolina, Ross ran the 400-meter dash in a blazing 45.21 seconds, the fastest time in the nation this year. A day later, he ran the 200 in a time of 20.50 seconds to take over the top spot at that distance as well.
Combined with an earlier performance as a member of A&T’s 4-x-400 relay team with Elijah Young, Daniel Stokes and Trevor Stewart, Ross was ranked No. 1 nationally in three different events.
Although his 200 mark has since been surpassed by LSU’s Terrance Laird and Florida’s Joseph Fahnbulleh, Ross will be among the favorites to win one or more national championships at the NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships in Fayetteville, Arkansas, on March 12-13.
“I’m pretty confident,” Randolph Ross said. “There’s a lot of good competition out there this year. But I feel like out of everybody, I’m more prepared because of the training we’ve been through.
“Everything has led up to this moment right here. As long as I go out there and execute, I believe I can win.”
If he does, Ross will become the first male A&T track athlete and second overall to win an NCAA Division I title. Kayla White was the first, winning the 200 meters in 2019.
He’ll also match one of the many achievements his father accomplished on the track.
Duane Ross earned his national championship in the 110-meter hurdles in 1995 to go along with five ACC individual titles and seven All-America honors while competing for Clemson. He also won a pair of U.S. championships and represented his country at the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Greece.
Like his father, Randolph also has his sights on making an Olympic team, possibly as soon as this summer’s rescheduled Summer Games in Tokyo.
“It’s real exciting being able to live up to everything that’s been expected so far,” Randolph Ross said. “It can be kind of stressful for some people to live up to what their parents did. But I kind of find it more as a challenge.”
Preparing to meet that challenge has been complicated by the coronavirus pandemic, which forced the cancellation of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Association’s championship meet and has limited A&T’s indoor schedule to only four competitive events.
His ability to perform at such a high level despite that and other obstacles has left his father “both proud and impressed.”
“He’s a gamer,” Duane Ross said of his son and star pupil. “He shows up when the bright lights come on. It’s just a matter of him getting to the competition, having fun and doing what he loves to do. He rises to the occasion, and that’s what I love about him and some of his training partners on the team.”
Randolph’s success at the college level is hardly a surprise. He won an NCHSAA 4A state title in the 400 meters for Garner High School while also earning All-American honors in both his signature event and the high jump.
His time of 33.80 seconds in the 300 meters indoors is a North Carolina state record.
Although he was recruited by several power conference programs from across the country — including finalist schools South Carolina, Ohio State and Iowa — he said the competition for his services wasn’t much of a competition at all.
“Growing up around A&T, I already knew all the guys, so it wasn’t hard to have chemistry with them,” Randolph Ross said. “And I knew the coaching was good. So overall, A&T was just the place for me to go.”