Can a dirty play lead to redemption? Tech hopes so


Based on widespread local and national social media reactions beginning Friday night, it is.

But maybe there’s a teachable moment here, not only for Brevin Randle, but for many others. Including Conference USA officials (I’ll get to them).

The second-leading tackler on the Louisiana Tech football team added six to his total Friday night at UTEP, helping the Bulldogs go 2-0 in CUSA with a 24-10 win over the Miners.

But his most infamous hit wasn’t a tackle. It was a cheap shot.

In the second quarter, Randle, a transfer during the offseason from Stephen F. Austin, fell on offensive lineman Steven Hubbard, who was on his stomach on the ground at the end of the play. As Randle got up, he shoved the prone Hubbard in his upper torso, then rose to his feet and stomped on Hubbard’s helmet while exiting the pileup. Hubbard’s legs and body twisted in obvious pain for a few seconds after he was stomped on.

Game officials somehow did not notice the flagrant acts, although they are supposed to “clean up” behind plays and pileups. They were all focused on determining which team had possession of the football only a yard or two away.

In fact, the referee apologized at halftime to UTEP coach Dana Dimel for missing the incident, which he must have heard about at the break due to the already bustling social media uprising. The ref evidently did not deem it necessary to share that with Louisiana Tech coach Sonny Cumbie, who was oblivious to it until after the game.

Once he heard about it, Cumbie made a cell phone call and apologized to Dimel before leaving the stadium. Back home in Ruston Saturday morning, Cumbie and Tech athletic director/VP Dr. Eric Wood conferred, met with Randle and suspended him indefinitely. A university statement said Randle “acknowledges that his action was wrong and understands the consequence.”

Tech did not kick Randle off the team. Many people want that to happen.

Randle is a newcomer to Ruston, arriving earlier this year after four seasons at Stephen F. Austin, where he played in 37 games after starring at Marshall (Texas) High. He’s a transfer portal product – and ask any college coach about trying to get a read of who the people are that they’re taking into their programs while bigger programs are extracting their good players with hefty NIL enticements and accompanying curb appeal.

He had drawn an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty a week earlier at Nebraska. So put the two together, and you wouldn’t be unjustified to surmise he’s a volatile type. But nobody saw Friday night’s episode coming, and at the end of the game, nobody on the field in the Tech camp knew it happened.

By the time Randle’s suspension was announced, the incident was seen through almost a half-million clicks on social media. That number has skyrocketed since. How Tech has reacted to that is appropriate, although the gut says otherwise.

It’s a teachable moment. Fortunately, UTEP’s Hubbard is apparently fine. His condition wasn’t even mentioned by Dimel in a brief comment during his postgame press conference Friday.

That many – Tech fans and random people from all over – want Randle off the Bulldog roster now is absolutely understandable. This isn’t that, but how many convicts sit in prison because of a horrible, momentary, emotional lapse with irrevocable consequences? That’s real life.

This is, too. But with no apparent damage, except to Randle’s reputation, and to the Tech brand. The game was on Friday night, televised nationally because Conference USA has a TV deal to provide weeknight games to CBS Sports Network and ESPN networks. That’s why Tech is playing an insane, unreasonable three games in 11 days (four in 17). What happened to commitment to student-athlete welfare by the CUSA leadership? Not a priority, and that’s shameful.

Randle won’t come close to erasing the shroud of shame he is wearing today. But he can gain some redemption. A public apology, to Hubbard, UTEP and to his Bulldog teammates, coaches and the university that is enabling his football career to continue (and now survive), is a start and is needed immediately.

Some anger management counseling seems appropriate. Add in quick and substantive involvement in community service to worthwhile causes, especially while he has no other time commitments since he’s not practicing (and presumably attending class). It’s not only a penance, but a growth opportunity.

Not only for Brevin Randle, but for his teammates, and for all who have given this inexcusable event their attention.

Because Randle is, like all of us, human. He made a huge mistake, in the heat of battle. Now in the heat of public disdain, he has a chance for redemption. His coach and athletic director decided he was worth it.

Maybe in a few weeks, he can wear that Number 6 jersey again and play a handful of football games. And many may eventually feel a little better if it works out that way. But he’s got to earn it.

(Note – an earlier version of this column improperly identified Randle as the Bulldogs player featured in a video clip walking off the field. I apologize for the mistake. – D.I.)

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