Football was never easy, at least for Randall Telfer.
Most players in high school had years of experience playing Pop Warner football or other youth leagues.
Telfer, a redshirt freshman tight end at USC, didn’t play organized football before high school. He didn’t understand the game, either.
“The very first time I played football and suited up was my freshman year in high school,” Telfer said. “I had no idea what to do and no idea where to go.”
Despite this, the 6-foot-4, 225-pound Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., native still drew the attention of college recruiters before stepping onto the field.
“I hadn’t even played a game of football yet,” Telfer said. “One of our offensive tackles was being recruited by Stanford and my coach introduced me to the head coach and he said he’d have his eye out for me.”
His high school coaches placed him at wide receiver and Telfer had to learn on the fly. But before he could see the field, ahead of him on the depth chart were guys quicker and more talented.
“My freshman and sophomore year, I was playing receiver and we had a lot of really fast guys,” Telfer said. “They had the track guys playing receiver, so seeing the playing field wasn’t really an option.”
Playing time was scarce during his first two years, until the coaching staff moved him to tight end. That’s when Telfer figured out the game and decided football was his sport.
“Once I moved to tight end my junior year, that’s when it really clicked with me and I found my true calling in football,” he said.
Despite not playing much his first two years in high school, Telfer put in the time to get better, to refine his craft. When junior year rolled around, it was then that he saw results.
Telfer had 44 receptions for 678 yards and five touchdowns. He was recognized for his outstanding play, garnering several awards while helping lead Rancho Cucamonga High School to a California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) title.
More colleges started taking notice of Telfer, including most of the Pac-10 schools at the time like Washington, California, Arizona State, Oregon and, of course, USC.
Ultimately, Telfer chose USC, choosing a football program with a rich history that had dominated the college football landscape for the better part of the decade.
“Ever since I was a little kid, I knew I wanted to go here,” he said. “A lot of my family came here, I grew up around here and of course, the great tradition.”
Even when former coach Pete Carroll left to coach the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks at the end of the 2009 season and the NCAA handed down sanctions, Telfer stuck to his commitment.
But at the time, then-junior tight end Rhett Ellison and former tight end Jordan Cameron were ahead of Telfer on the depth chart. Once again, he found himself in a familiar position — on the sidelines.
Redshirting a year, however, didn’t hurt his prospects. Ellison, one of the four captains on the team this year, has seen the development in his understudy.
“He’s faster, he’s stronger and he’s figuring out the offense,” Ellison said. “He’s holding his own and it’s like night and day from last year.”
Telfer also cites Ellison’s leadership and experience as a positive aspect that has helped him grow as a player.
“Coming in here as a freshman, looking up to Rhett, he’s been a great mentor,” Telfer said. “Everybody can look up to [him] and everybody can take away something from him because he’s been around for so long.”
Fast forward one year: Cameron was drafted by the NFL’s Cleveland Browns and Ellison moved to fullback in fall camp.
With nobody guaranteed to open the season as a starter, this gave an opportunity for Telfer to challenge redshirt freshman tight end Xavier Grimble and sophomore tight end Christian Thomas for the job.
Grimble started the game in last weekend’s season home opener against Minnesota. The coaching staff, however, has yet to name a definitive starter, leaving playing time and that No. 1 position still wide open.
Even at USC, Telfer hasn’t been guaranteed anything, hasn’t been given the job on a silver platter — he fully knows he has to go get it himself.
“Rhett’s move to fullback has motivated me more because he’s gone and it’s my turn to step up,” Telfer said. “I’m motivated to get more playing time. It’s driven me to practice harder and work harder.”