- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 16, 2002

The campus tour for Maryland football recruits stopped at the Recreation Center, a huge, state-of-the-art facility that resembles a health spa. As the kids looked down at the basketball court from the third floor, assistant coach Dave Solazzo thought he recognized someone playing in the game. The player was smiling and waving at the coach as he brought the ball upcourt.
Wait a minute, thought Solazzo, could it be? It could. One of the recruits, Randy Earle, a linebacker from Farmingdale (N.Y.) High School, had slipped away from the group. Earle not only joined a pickup game in progress, he was running the show, playing point guard.
"He put himself in the game," Solazzo said. "He'd made friends with the students. We didn't even know he was missing."
The 6-foot-3, 225-pound Earle is not easily missed. He is a constant presence a boistrous, animated free spirit, his pierced tongue perpetually flapping in conversation. After the Terrapins beat Clemson in November to win the ACC championship, Solazzo was struck how Earle, amid the jubilant postgame scene, went from player to player asking questions about life at Maryland.
"The worst thing you can be is bashful," Earle said.
"He's an outgoing person," Solazzo said. "To say the least."
That, it turns out, is the least you can say about Randy Earle, who will enroll at Maryland during the summer and continue a course so filled with obstacles that even his friends at first had trouble believing the life he's lived. "We started talking once, and he gave me the rundown," said Kevin Bracken, a Long Island businessman who helped Earle negotiate some of those obstacles. "I've got to be honest. At first I thought, 'No way.'"
The "rundown" includes a litany of life-and-death hardships. To put it in context, think of Juan Dixon, the All-American senior on Maryland's national championship basketball team. Anyone paying attention is familiar with Dixon's story his parents were drug addicts who died from AIDS. It's a compelling tale, one of tragedy and eventual triumph. Earle's circumstances are similar.
"Number one," Solazzo said, "he's a survivor."
On July 30, 1983, at a hospital in Harlem, N.Y., Randy Earle was born prematurely and addicted to crack cocaine, thanks to his mother, Andrea Earle. He weighed three pounds. "They said I was a fighter," he said.
As he grew up, Earle showed no harmful effects. But his brother and sister were less fortunate. When Randy's brother, Eric, was born in 1986, Andrea Earle learned she was HIV positive, from using an infected heroin needle. Born with the AIDS virus, Eric died a year later. Three years later, Andrea Earle gave birth to Randy's sister, Zianna. She, too, died from AIDS, living barely a year.
Meanwhile, Earle's father, Victor Anthony Wilson, who had a six-year relationship with Andrea Earle but never married her, was a heroin addict who died from AIDS in 1987 when Earle was four. Earle said he has no memories of Wilson, except one in which the child recalls his father playing records. Randy said his dad was a pretty good basketball player at Rice High School in Harlem, "but other things got to him."
Andrea Earle, who stood nearly 6 feet tall, fought her addictions until November 1998, when she also died from AIDS. She was in North Carolina; Randy was living with an aunt in Farmingdale on Long Island at the time.
"She was a person who realized her mistakes," he said. "Maybe too late, but at least she did. She faced reality, and she tried to prepare me for what was gonna happen. We all do things for a reason, be they good or not. And she was going through things in her life, and her letting me know, and the loss of her, makes me want to have certain things in life."
Earle bounced between foster homes and various relatives, living in the Bronx, upstate New York, North Carolina and Long Island. Unlike Dixon, who has a supportive older brother and a dedicated extended family, Earle for a long time had no one on whom to lean. He figures he's lived in 17 different places in the first 18 years of his life.
Asked why he moved around so much, Earle replied, "I guess as a young kid I was a burden to a lot of people."
Earle's life stabilized when he was in the 10th grade. He lived with his aunt and helped her run a home-based treatment facility for the mentally challenged. The work got to be too much for him, and he left, moving in with the family of Tom Cinelli, the Farmingdale quarterback. With five children, the Cinelli household provided Earle with a nurturing environment. After Tom graduated last year, Earle was welcomed into the family of Nancy Cion and her two sons, Danny, a teammate of Earle's, and Douglas.
"I like the fact Randy has a safe home, a place to come to," said Nancy Cion, a single parent. "Randy's such a great kid. For all he's gone through, I find it absolutely amazing he's as positive as he is. He's always looking to help people. He's great with little kids. And the other thing is he's basically taught my two kids to appreciate what they have. The first week Randy was living with us, my son mouthed off to me. Randy said, 'Hey, don't talk to her like that.' He's basically brought another dimension to our lives."
"He's a great kid," Farmingdale coach Buddy Krumenacker said. "Just a nice person. He's polite, he's caring, he gives a [expletive] about people because he's seen the other side of things. Just how ugly things can be. Some guys learn from things like this, some guys go up in flames. He's a guy that knows right from wrong."
A Long Island coaching legend, Krumenacker is the closest thing Earle has to a father figure. You want tough? In addition to his football duties, Krumenacker's title at Farmingdale High School is Dean of Discipline. "I'm the heavy," he said. "I'm the guy who kicks him in the [butt]."
Not often, but enough to keep Earle honest. It's a job Krumenacker seems to be good at.
"He's a victim, sometimes, of people being a little too good to him," Krumenacker said. "If enough people tell him 'yes' all the time, 'You can do this, you can do that,' then he starts saying, 'I don't think I can make it to class today,' that kind of [expletive]. He's a kid. All kids know how to do that. I don't mean that he's doing that all the time, but he's such a good guy, people want to do nice things for him."
Bracken, who said Earle gave his football jersey to the 10-year-old son of a friend simply because the kid asked for it, acknowledged that Earle has a bit of a con man in him.
"Randy's a very likable guy, and he knows how to ask people for certain things and get it," Bracken said. "I was one of those people. Maybe I gave him a little too much. But you feel sorry for him at times, and it's hard to get away from that."
But, added Bracken, "He had to be that way to get to where he is, to survive with no family. He's still got some of the street in him."
If Earle known by some of his friends as "Black Superman" or "Brother Flash" relishes his role as local hero, he seems to have deserved it. Besides, things just keep happening to him. Like the time last year when he rescued a woman who was trapped inside her vehicle following an accident.
Driving on Sunrise Highway on Long Island, Earle spotted a minivan on the side of the road that had just collided with a car. The driver's door was crushed, and the woman couldn't get out until Earle pried it open and freed her. Then he quickly left. He said he was worried about where his car was parked and didn't want to get a ticket.
Except for relatively minor pre-teen transgressions like stealing bottles of Snapple off a delivery truck, Earle said he has stayed out of trouble. But like the rest of his life, it's been a struggle. There were times lots of times Earle said, when he could have gone in another direction. "Right or left," is how he puts it.
"I've had opportunities to go to the negative side of the situation, a lot of things most kids can't say no to," Earle said. "Certain people are in the same situation, and they have the opportunity to go on the streets or sell drugs or rob and steal. You can go that route. Or not, and be at peace with yourself."
Yet moments of pain and doubt occasionally cloud his sunny disposition. Admittedly, Earle says, his outward exuberance masks something darker inside. Grateful for the support he has received, Earle said he still misses having a family. Legally, he is known as an "emancipated minor."
"I seem like I'm cool and jolly all the time, but there's a flame inside of me," he said. "A lot of times it gets so hard for me. It gets harder as you get older, not easier like you'd think. When you're 18 years old, you're looking for real guidance. I'm succeeding, but without [my parents], it's kind of empty."
Thank goodness, he said, for football.
"I learned I could get rid of all this anger and frustration without getting in trouble," he said. "I think I play for a totally different reason than anyone on the field. To me, it's kind of like a battle between life and death. I'm just an animal when I'm out there. That's my only way out. I'm out there hungry. Either I play football and get a scholarship, or I'm out on the street, doing what I've got to do. I'm gonna take this as far as I can go with it."
Earle believes he can go pretty far, although, like most recruits, he has no idea of the difference in size, speed and skill between high school and college. "We're hoping he can help us right away," Solazzo said. "Then again, we don't want to put him into a situation where he's not ready. He's still raw. But he has one asset, one you can't coach. And that's his speed. He has a lot of speed off the edge."
Earle was constantly double-teamed last season, allowing his teammats to flourish, but he still recorded his share of sacks. "All the [opponents] schemes were meant to get Randy off the quarterback," Krumenacker said.
And yet despite all that attention Earle still managed to make 68 tackles and eight sacks, as well as an interception, while leading Farmingdale to an 11-1 record and the Long Island championship.
Physically, Krumenacker describes Earle as a "freakin' stud of the first order" who could walk through the security gate at the New York Jets' camp. "He's got that look," Krumenacker said.
Earle is so intent on playing right away he has been working out relentlessly. His regimen includes strapping on 45-pound metal plates and pulling a blocking sled. But he has always pushed himself. As a junior, Earle suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee during the sixth game of the year. He missed the rest of the season but worked himself back to where he said the knee is stronger than before.
"I kept saying to myself, 'I've been through worse,'" Earle said, having lived up to a favorite expression of his: "Pain is love."
"I like people who like to get their hands dirty," he said. "People who, when it hurts, keep right on going."

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