TUPELO – For the first time in decades, Tupelo will send one of its own to the NFL Punt, Pass & Kick Championships.
Eleven-year-old Joshua Randle will compete today at the Superdome in New Orleans against others in the same age category.
If he ranks within the top four, he’ll move on to the National Finals competition at an AFC playoff game in January.
The championship competition starts at 3 p.m. – more than four hours before the 13-0 Saints face the Dallas Cowboys. But those watching the game at home might still catch a glimpse of the Milam Elementary School student.
He and the other PPK participants are scheduled to perform in a passing exhibition that could take place during halftime.
“In the past, the exhibition is at halftime, and between the third and fourth quarter they name names,” said Charlie Turner, Mississippi’s PPK chair. “Historically, they don’t broadcast that. But the game will be on the NFL Network, and they might do it differently.”
Turner said no one will know about TV coverage until later today.
But for Joshua and his family, it’s honor enough just to compete at the Superdome.
“I was very excited,” Joshua said, recalling the day he found out he’d compete. “I tried my best not to go wild.”
Joshua had won two previous contests – both held in Tupelo – before earning the chance to go to the championships. His mother, Yolanda Randle, said her son rarely played football until this year.
“He played soccer and basketball last year,” Randle said. “Those were his big sports, but then he started playing football.”
Joshua would toss the ball in the backyard with his friends and siblings, and he discovered pretty quickly he had a talent for it. But it could be hereditary; he is related to Mississippi native and former San Francisco 49ers star wide receiver Jerry Rice, said his mother, who is also related to the Rices.
Although the famous footballer hasn’t shared his techniques with Joshua, the young athlete has developed a trick of his own: He imagines a ring floating in the air and then tries to toss the ball through it.
The technique has worked thus far, and Joshua hopes it will bring him success in New Orleans, where 30 years ago another Tupeloan, Todd Jordan, performed and won in the same competition.
He’ll also have the support of numerous fans back home, including Mayor Jack Reed Jr., who presented the pre-teen a certificate earlier this week at a City Council meeting.
Reed also practiced with Joshua at Ballard Park a few days before the competition.
“Good luck,” Reed told him. “You’re already a winner.”
Contact Emily Le Coz at (662) 678-1588 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jordan gives new contestant some advice
TUPELO – Todd Jordan’s advice for young Joshua Randle tonight might not be as simple as it sounds.
“It’s going to be an overwhelming experience,” said Jordan. “Stay calm and stay focused.”
Easy for him to say – he won’t be in the Superdome competing against a group of his peers for a shot at a bigger prize.
But 30 years ago Jordan, now a Tupelo real estate agent, was there, doing just that.
In 1978 and 1979, as a student at Church Street Elementary, he punted, passed and kicked his way from Tupelo to New Orleans, winning in Starkville and Memphis along the way.
His second trip to New Orleans resulted in a victory that sent him to the semifinals in Tampa, where he finished fourth out of 14.
“It was truly a real good experience,” Jordan said Friday, recalling the hospitality sponsors showed him and his family. “They really took care of us.”
Jordan went on to play quarterback-punter for Mississippi State from 1989 to 1993 and spent a year in the Canadian Football League.
He now works for Coldwell Banker in Tupelo, but with clear memories of his Punt Pass & Kick days.
“Both years in Starkville,” he said, “I competed against the same guy and barely beat him, a couple of feet.”
And even though he made a career with his leg, he pointed out that it was a shanked punt – not a pass or a kickoff – that cost him a win in Tampa.
– Michael Tonos
Catch the game
The New Orleans Saints face the Dallas Cowboys at 7:20 p.m. today at the Superdome. The game will be broadcast on the NFL Network.
Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal