My time to shine
Randall Cunningham II relishes the chance to live up to his famous last name
LAS VEGAS -- Randall Cunningham II first noticed how people reacted to the presence of his father about seven years ago.
It was four years after the elder Cunningham retired from the NFL, and young Randall, as a fourth-grader, watched his dad greet awestruck admirers at nearly every turn.
The Cunninghams had settled in Las Vegas so the iconic former quarterback, who played 16 seasons in four organizations, could complete his degree at UNLV and establish a ministry.
The elder Cunningham fielded autograph requests aplenty. His kid saw it and made a decision right then.
"I knew I had to live up to that," Cunningham II said. "He's been there and done everything at the highest level. I decided I had to be better than that."
Talk about pressure. Cunningham has yet to start a high school football game, but as he nears the end of his junior year at powerhouse Las Vegas Bishop Gorman, the scholarship offers are piling up.
Baylor, whose coaches coined the nickname "RC2," was the first to offer, followed by hometown UNLV, Mississippi State and Syracuse. UCLA, Oregon and LSU are also showing interest in the 6-foot-5, 175-pound quarterback.
He's set to start in the fall, replacing Arizona-bound Anu Solomon, the four-time state champion who won 56 of 60 games at Bishop Gorman.
Big shoes to fill, for sure, but Cunningham is used to it. And he embraces pressure.
His father casts an even larger shadow as a four-time Pro Bowl selection and the prototype for modern dual-threat quarterbacks. The younger Cunningham, in much the same way as his dad, said he hopes to establish a new standard for athleticism at the position.
He's run a laser-timed 4.6-second 40-yard dash and last August cleared a meet-record 7 feet, 2 inches in the high jump at the AAU Junior Olympic Nationals in Humble, Texas. Cunningham wants to top the all-time national high school mark of 7-5.75. He wants to compete in track and play football in college. He wants to jump in the Olympics and follow his father to the NFL.
Hey, why not?
"I took everything I learned from the NFL, and I just poured that into him," said the elder Cunningham, who has helped coach his son since his youth league days. "He's faster than I was [at his age], faster than I was in college, and he knows more of the game. He wants more and more and more.
"And I don't push have to push him like some of these dads. It's not like that. He just naturally has been given a gift from God to be a great athlete, a great friend and a great son."
In his backup role, Cunningham completed 21 of 32 passes for 298 yards with two touchdowns and four interceptions last season. He rushed 42 times for 483 yards and seven scores.
His elongated throwing motion is slightly reminiscent of his father's.
Clearly, college coaches are banking on his potential as an athlete. A few recruiters, in fact, inquired early about his ability to play receiver.
"I don't think that's something he'd be excited about," Bishop Gorman coach Tony Sanchez said.
He's a quarterback, like his dad.
"He's got a strong arm," Sanchez said. "He's got good hips. The arm strength is there. The athleticism is there. I'll be honest with you. I'm excited to see what happens, because I don't know. This kid, as an athlete, is off the charts. Most kids that size do not run like him. You give him an inch, he's gone."
Bishop Gorman annually plays a formidable schedule. Next fall is no exception. Confirmed foes include Mountain Pointe (Phoenix), Servite (Anaheim, Calif.), Santa Margarita Catholic (Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif.), Bergen Catholic (Oradell, N.J.) and Booker T. Washington (Miami).
Sanchez said he believes Cunningham will be ready to answer the challenge.
Why? Primarily, because of his maturity. As a freshman, he attended Silverado High School, where his father coached, then transferred to Bishop Gorman and had to sit out his sophomore year in football and track.
He played scout-team QB.
"It'll blow you away how humble this kid is," Sanchez said. "He doesn't even accidentally cuss. He does things the right way and carries himself with a lot of grace."
Cunningham will attract attention simply because of his name. Opponents will target him.
Again, not a problem, Sanchez said. Cunningham's parents -- his mother, Felicity, is a South African-born former professional ballet dancer -- taught him well. Family means a great deal to young Randall. His brother, Christian, died in 2010 at age 2 in a hot tub at the family's home.
Randall said he thinks about Christian every day as he pursues his athletic goals.
"Everything I do is for my brother," he said.
So, you see, Cunningham keeps in perspective the pressure to follow a state-champion QB or perform with a famous name on the back of his jersey.
He'll rely on an experienced group of teammates next fall, especially running back Nathan Starks, an ESPN Watch List prospect with offers from the likes of Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Texas, Washington, UCLA and Nebraska.
As for his scholarship offers, Cunningham cherishes each one.
"These schools believe in me," he said, "so I have to go out and prove to them that I can go out and be a great quarterback. It gives me a drive to go out there and do better."
The elder Cunningham said he won't push his son toward UNLV, which does not have a men's track program. The other schools have offered Randall the chance to compete in both sports.
And his limited experience as a high school QB won't hurt. Oregon coaches reminded the Cunninghams that Marcus Mariota started just one year at Honolulu St. Louis before leading the Ducks as a redshirt freshman.
"I just want him to go out there and enjoy himself," the elder Cunningham said. "It's not the NFL. It's not a business yet. It's a game. I want him to keep that in mind.
"He's had a lot of pressure on him, but I let him play the game."
And for Randall Cunningham II, after years of waiting, nothing sounds better.
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